Alan Kay

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Alan Kay (2008)

Alan Curtis Kay (born May 17, 1940 in Springfield , Massachusetts ) is an American computer scientist who is considered a pioneer in the areas of object-oriented programming , small talk , squeak and the design of graphical user interfaces .

He is President of the Viewpoints Research Institute , Associate Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a member of the Advisory Board of TTI / Vanguard. Until mid-2005 he was a senior fellow at Hewlett-Packard , as well as visiting professor at the University of Kyoto and private lecturer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) . Kay is an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , the National Academy of Engineering , and the Royal Society of Arts . According to his career was even, for example, for the imprinted by him Kays work dictum : ". The best way to predict the future is to invent it" (predict the best way the future is to invent it.)

In the course of his career he has worked as a professional jazz guitarist , composer , theater designer and organist for classical organ .

Kay is married to the writer, producer, and actress Bonnie MacBird .


Kay was born in Springfield , Massachusetts . His father was a physiologist and his mother was a musician and taught Kay to make music. Kay said in an interview

Since my father was a scientist and my mother was an artist, the atmosphere during my early years was full of many kinds of ideas and ways to express them. I did not distinguish between “art” and “science” and still don't.

(After my father was a scientist and my mother a musician, the mood of my early years was shaped by different ideas and their realization. I did not differentiate between "art" and "science" and still do not.)

Due to the father's occupation, the family moved several times and eventually settled in the New York Metropolitan Area . In an interview with Davis Group Ltd about education in America, Kay said

I had the fortune or misfortune to learn how to read fluently starting at the age of three. So I had read maybe 150 books by the time I hit 1st grade. And I already knew that the teachers were lying to me.

(I was fortunate or unfortunate to be able to read fluently by the age of three. So I had read about 150 books before I got into first grade. And I already knew the teachers were lying to me.)

Kay first attended the prestigious Brooklyn Technical High School but was suspended due to disobedience in his senior year. His achievements were enough for a school leaving certificate, after which he began studying biology and mathematics at Bethany College in Bethany, West Virginia . However, after protesting against the quota of Jews in this institution, he had to leave it. He then worked for a year as a guitar teacher in Denver , Colorado and enlisted in the United States Air Force , where he began to work as a software developer , where he developed an early system for data transfer between different platforms. In an answer on the Quora platform , he described his work at the time as follows:

We couldn't design much. Back then the idea was to start programming other people's designs so one was useful while gradually soaking up the more difficult systems design ideas and heuristics. This was done by implementing flowcharts, and in particular, flowcharts of punched card applications that the AF wanted to convert from the huge floors of rattling machines to run on small cheap computers like the 1401. The designers and makers of the flowcharts were called “programmers "And the human compilers of these into optimized machine codes were called" coders ".

(We couldn't design much. Back then, the idea of ​​programming was to start implementing other people's designs so that you could be useful, while gradually taking in the design ideas of more difficult systems and heuristics. Flowcharts were implemented for this, and flowcharts in particular of punch card applications, which should be converted according to the ideas of the AF, so that they no longer ran on the big, rattling machines, but could be executed on small, cheap computers like the 1401. The designers and creators of the flowcharts became "programmers" and the human compilers that translated them into optimized machine code were called "coders".)

Kay earned a bachelor's degree in mathematics and molecular biology from the University of Colorado Boulder in 1966 and a master's degree in electrical engineering from the University of Utah in 1968 . In 1969 he received the Ph.D. in computer science , with his doctoral thesis entitled " FLEX: A Flexible Extendable Language " describing the invention of the computer language "FLEX". In Utah, Kay worked with the "father of computer graphics " Ivan Sutherland , who was best known for developing pioneering programs such as Sketchpad . In 1968 he met Seymour Papert and learned the programming language Logo as a dialect of Lisp , which was optimized for educational purposes.

After Kay left Utah as a private lecturer , he worked as a visiting researcher at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and finally became a member of Xerox PARC in Palo Alto , California in 1971 , where he led the “Learning Research Group”. During the following decade, he developed prototypes for networked workstations based on the Smalltalk programming language, which were later used in Apple's Lisa and Macintosh computers .

Kay is seen as one of the fathers of object-oriented programming . Some of these concepts, including the terms " object " and " class ", were developed for Simula 67 at the Norwegian Computing Center. Kay later said:

I'm sorry that I long ago coined the term "objects" for this topic because it gets many people to focus on the lesser idea. The big idea is "messaging".

(I'm sorry I coined the term "objects" for this topic a long time ago because it gets a lot of people to focus on the less significant ideas. The big idea is "messaging").

In addition, Kay was considered one of the first researchers in the field of mobile learning , as he developed a concept with the Dynabook during his time at Xerox PARC , which as an educational platform represents a forerunner of laptops , tablet computers and e-books . Many of Dynabook's concepts were ultimately adopted in the development of the One Laptop Per Child educational platform , in which Kay is actively involved.

Kay also shaped the architecture of modern graphical user interfaces by introducing overlapping display windows (GUI).

Based on Kay's vision, computing is facing a new revolution in which computers are not viewed as a set of tools developed by Douglas Engelbart , but rather as a medium as Marshall McLuhan understood it . He wrote:

As with Simulas leading to OOP, this encounter finally hit me with what the destiny of personal computing really was going to be. Not a personal dynamic vehicle, as in Engelbart's metaphor opposed to the IBM “railroads”, but something much more profound: a personal dynamic medium. With a vehicle one could wait until high school and give “drivers ed”, but if it was a medium, it had to extend into the world of childhood.

(After Simulas led to OOP, I finally realized what the real purpose of personal computing would be. Not a personal, dynamic vehicle, as in Engelbart's metaphor that opposes IBM's “railroads”, but something much more profound: a personal one , dynamic medium. A vehicle can wait until high school and give "driving lessons," but if it were a medium it would have to expand into the world of childhood.)

Work and recognition

Alan Key shows a Dynabook prototype
Alan Kay presents a Dynabook prototype.

From 1981 to 1984 Kay was a senior scientist at Atari and from 1984 to the closure of the Advanced Technology Group in 1997, he was an employee at Apple . He then moved to Walt Disney Imagineering with the help of friend Bran Ferren, director of research and development at Disney , until the project ended in 2001.

Kay then founded the Viewpoints Research Institute , a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning, and advanced software development. At the beginning of 2018 the Viewpoints Research Institute was closed. Kay also worked as a Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard until the Advanced Software Research Team was dissolved in 2005 .

In 2011 Kay was a lecturer at New York University in the context of the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), and gave the lecture “Powerful Ideas: Useful Tools to Understand the World” with the aim of developing new ways of teaching and learning based on fundamental and based on powerful concepts instead of traditional memorization.

Squeak, Etoys and Croquet

Kay was a member of the development group of Squeak , which is an open source version of Smalltalk and was founded in December 1995. In this context, work began on the so-called Etoys system in November 1996. Most recently Kay worked with David A. Smith, David P. Reed, Andreas Raab, Rick McGeer, Julian Lombardi and Mark P. McCahill on Croquet, which was supposed to incorporate Squeak's basic idea of ​​adapting the computer to the physical environment in a three-dimensional user interface.


In 2001, the Etoys architecture in Squeak reached its limits, as Morphic was no longer sufficient as a graphical user interface. As a result, Andreas Raab, a researcher in Kay's group and later at Hewlett-Packard, suggested defining a “script process” and providing a predetermined scheduling mechanism that would solve various problems.

This eventually resulted in a novel user interface that included mechanisms of islands, asynchronous messaging, players and costumes, language extensions, projects and tile scripting. The underlying system is class-based , but it is prototype-based for the user during programming .

100 dollar laptop

At the World Summit on the Information Society in November 2005, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) presented a new laptop for worldwide use in education. The program was initiated by Kay's friend Nicholas Negroponte and has been maintained ever since, with Kay as co-developer mainly concentrating on the educational software that Etoys and Squeak use. Thus, the Dynabook as a concept of an interactive, computer and network-mediated interaction is part of the software development for the student laptop. The laptop goes by different names: $ 100 laptop, the One Laptop per Child program, the Children's Machine, and XO-1.

Reinventing programming

Kay often gave lectures on the novelty of the computer revolution, which means that not all of the promising concepts have been turned into reality. His presentations at the 1997 OOPSLA conference and at the ACM Turing Award ceremony entitled "The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet" are based on his experiences with Sketchpad , Simula , Smalltalk and the complex code of commercial software.

In a 2004 interview with ACMQueue, Kay said the following:

Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.

(Most current software projects are to be equated with an Egyptian pyramid in which millions of building blocks are stacked on top of one another with no structural integrity, merely built by brute force and thousands of slaves.)

Based on this idea, Kay created the proposal "STEPS Toward the Reinvention of Programming: A compact and Practical Model of Personal Computing as a Self-exploratorium", which was approved on August 31, 2006 by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF) . A rough summary of this can be found in the following quote from an abstract for a seminar he held at the Intel Research Labs, Berkeley :

"The conglomeration of commercial and most open source software consumes in the neighborhood of several hundreds of millions of lines of code these days. We wonder: how small could be an understandable practical" Model T "design that covers this functionality? 1M lines of code ? 200K LOC? 100K LOC? 20K LOC? "

(The accumulation of commercial software and most open source projects is roughly in the range of several hundred million lines of code. We ask ourselves: How small can an understandable practical "Model T" design be that covers this functionality? 1 million lines of code? 200,000 lines of code? 100,000 lines of code? 20000 lines of code?)

Prizes and awards

  • In 1987, Kay received the ACM Software System Award along with Adele Goldberg and Daniel HH Ingalls, Jr. for achievements in object-oriented programming and small talk
  • In 1993 he received the ACM Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education Award for Smalltalk and his research in software for children
  • In 2001 he received the 01 Award from the University of the Arts in Berlin for his pioneering work in the field of graphical user interfaces as well as the JD Warnier Prix D'Informatique and NEC C&C Prize
  • In 2002 he received the Telluride Tech Festival Award of Technology in Telluride , Colorado and the Funai Foundation Prize
  • In 2003 he received the ACM Turing Award for his pioneering work in the field of object-oriented programming, for the project management of the Smalltalk team and for his contribution in the field of personal computing .
  • In 2012 he received the UPE Abacus Award for his extensive leadership work on educational projects in the field of computer science

Kay also received the Lewis Branscomb Technology Award.

Web links

Commons : Alan Kay  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d e f g h i j Alan Kay - AM Turing Award Laureate. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  2. a b Viewpoints Research Institute. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  3. HP converting storied garage into recycling center: Good Morning Silicon Valley. June 26, 2007. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  4. June 4,1997 - Alan Kay, Walt Disney Imagineering - The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  5. ^ We Cannot Predict the Future, But We Can Invent It - Quote Investigator. Retrieved September 25, 2018 (American English).
  6. squeakland: resources: articles. Retrieved September 25, 2018 .
  7. a b c d e Dennis Shasha, Cathy Lazere: Out of their minds: the lives and discoveries of 15 great computer scientists . Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg 1995, ISBN 0-387-97992-1 .
  8. ^ The Generational Divide. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  9. ^ How did Alan Kay first get started with computing? - Quora. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  10. FLEX-A FLEXIBLE EXTENDABLE LANGUAGE. Retrieved September 17, 2018 .
  11. ^ H. Peter Alesso, Craig F. Smith: Connections: Patterns of Discovery . John Wiley & Sons, 2008, ISBN 978-0-470-19152-1 ( [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  12. ^ SB Barnes: Alan Kay: Transforming the Computer Into a Communication Medium (PDF). Engineering & Technology History Wiki, accessed September 17, 2018 .
  13. squeakland: resources: articles. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  14. prototypes vs classes was: Re: Sun's HotSpot. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  15. Thomas J. Bergin Jr., Richard G. Gibson Jr .: History of programming languages ​​--- II . ACM, 1996, ISBN 0-201-89502-1 ( [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  16. Alan Kay At OOPSLA 1997 The Computer Revolution Hasnt Happened Yet. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  17. ^ The Early History of Smalltalk. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on April 29, 2011 ; Retrieved September 28, 2018 (American English). Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  18. ^ I Programmer. Historian: Alan Kay. Retrieved September 19, 2018 .
  19. ^ Newton Lee, Krystina Madej: Disney Stories: Getting to Digital . Springer Science & Business Media, 2012, ISBN 978-1-4614-2101-6 ( [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  20. ^ Alan Kay: Powerful Ideas: Useful Tools to Understand the World. September 15, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  21. Croquet - operating system for the Internet without a browser - . ( Online [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  22. Tweak: OriginalTweakMemo. August 31, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  23. Tweak: Whitepapers. September 27, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  24. Annan presents prototype $ 100 laptop at World Summit on Information Society . In: MIT News . ( Online [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  25. ^ Phil Windley: Alan Kay: The 100 Dollar Laptop and Powerful Ideas. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  26. ^ Alan Kay at OOPSLA 1997 - The computer revolution hasnt happened yet. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  27. ^ A Conversation with Alan Kay - ACM Queue. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  28. ^ Alan Kay, Dan Ingalls, Yoshiki Ohshima, Ian Piumarta, Andreas Raab: Steps Toward The Reinvention of Programming - A Compact and Practical Model of Personal Computing as a Self-Exploratorium . January 1, 2006 ( online [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  29. a b Computer History Museum | Fellow Awards - Alan Kay. October 3, 2012, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  30. Alan Kay. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  31. Outstanding Contribution to Computer Science Education | Special Interest Group on Computer Science Education. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  32. Tilman Baumgärtel: 01 Award from the University of the Arts for computer pioneer Alan Kay: Amplifier for the imagination . In: Berliner Zeitung . ( Online [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  33. a b ACM Fellows. July 24, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  34. Awards | NEC C&C Foundation. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  35. ^ Information Processing Society of Japan: FUNAI Achievement Award-Information Processing Society of Japan. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  36. heise online: Kyoto prices for Alan Kay and Jürgen Habermas. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  37. 2004 Recipients of the Charles Stark Draper Prize . In: . March 25, 2004 ( [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  38. UPE: 50 years of UPE (PDF). 2017, accessed on September 26, 2018 .
  39. Hedersdoktorer 1944-2008 (KTH). January 9, 2009, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  40. Tech forms dual-degree program with Chinese university (PDF). In: The Whistle. December 19, 2005, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  41. ^ Columbia College Chicago: 2005 Commencement Ceremonies. March 20, 2012. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  42. ^ Columbia College Chicago: Press Releases: May 2005 Archives. September 30, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .
  43. ^ University of Pisa: Honoris Causa Degree in Informatica to Alan Curtis Kay. 2007, accessed on September 28, 2018 .
  44. Facultad de Informática, Universidad de Murcia: Facultad de Informática :: Doctor Honoris Causa Alan Kay. Retrieved September 28, 2018 (Spanish).
  45. ^ Alan Kay receives an honorary degree from the School of Informatics . In: The University of Edinburgh . ( Online [accessed September 28, 2018]).
  46. ^ University of the Arts, Berlin: Prof. Dr. Alan Kay. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  47. American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Dr. Alan Curtis Kay. (No longer available online.) Archived from the original on September 29, 2018 ; accessed on September 28, 2018 . Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  48. National Academy of Engineering: Dr. Alan C. Kay. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  49. Programming and Scaling. Retrieved September 28, 2018 .
  50. ^ Hasso Plattner Institute: Alan Kay recognized as an HPI Fellow. July 24, 2011, accessed September 28, 2018 .