Alan Kay

Inventor of SmallTalk, a father of OOP, conceiver of the DynaBook in 1968. Was at Xerox PARC 1970-1980. At Atari 1984-1984. Became an Apple Fellow in 1984. During that time he started Squeak SmallTalk. He later moved to Disney for a few years, which he left in Sept'2001. Worked on Open Croquet at HP 2002-2005.


2022: does most of his posting to Quora

He posts to the Squeak mailing list regularly. is the home of SqueakSmallTalk focuses on educational applications, and the "EToys" Squeak environment.

See Howard Rheingold chapter of Tools For Thought. When millions of portable, affordable, imagination amplifiers fall into the hands of eight-year-old children, look for Alan Kay somewhere in the plot.

Alan is president of Viewpoints Research Institute ( The long term goal is to help make major positive changes in how children are educated all over the world (Educating Kids). The goals for the next several years are to create, test, and put on the Internet, a sample curriculum with supporting media for teaching "real math" and "real science" to K-12, with an initial emphasis on K-8. This curriculum will use Squeak as its media, and will be highly interactive and constructive.

Lisa Rein did the ultimate writeup (with video clips) of Alan's session at E T Con'03.

Saw Alan Mar14'02 give the Marshall McLuhan lecture at the New School.


Some notes:

Alan gets the "Not a Normal Person" chapter in Dealers Of Lightning.

Alan thinks Gutenberg Galaxy is Mc Luhan's best book, and was key to Alan being able to understand Understanding Media, which he couldn't understand the first time he read it. (An equally hard book to understand being Science And Sanity - see General Semantics.)

Neil Postman's Teaching As A Subversive Activity was another big inspiration. As was Seymour Papert (Logo), and Jerome Bruner's Toward A Theory Of Instruction.

The reproducibility of books (post-Gutenberg) changed the type of argumentation that was possible. Previously, allegorical argument was necessary, because (a) books were rare, thus arguments would be spread orally, and (b) since those few books were reproduced by hand you couldn't count on their precision. But high-volume exact-copy production allowed for more detailed analytical argument.

"We knew people would keep using computers to mimic paper for decades. But we didn't think they'd keep doing it for three decades!"

Maria Montessori's belief, that Nature has designed children to learn through playing, led her to design toys which she believed would be entertaining while subtly teaching children to think. Alan's goal was to do the same thing, but using the computer as a toy that would teach children to think in a 21st-century way. (Montessori School)

He showed a video showing lots of Harvard students on the day of their graduation failing to explain accurately why the seasons change. Most think it's because the Earth is much farther from the Sun during the winter. (I think science educators are to blame for this, by always showing orbits from an angle, which makes near-circles look like very oblique ellipses. We need some Astronomy Animation-s.)

  • The major axis of the ellipse is 2.9919634e11 meters long. The minor axis is 2.9915454e11 meters long. So that's less than 1% off of being a circle.
  • Semi-related, the Earth is not a perfect sphere. The Equatorial radius is 6,378.1 km, the Polar radius 6,356.8 km. That's also a less-than-1% difference.

He gave a cool demo using SqueakSmallTalk (and his slides were built on top of the same framework).

  • paint a car, treat it as a single object. Menu shows attributes (location, size, "heading", etc.) and possible actions/parameters (move forward, turn, etc.)
  • drag menu items into program window to write code ("forward 5, turn 5")
  • change parameter values in various places as code is running (making the car run in a circle)
  • draw a separate steering wheel object. Have its rotation affect the car-turn parameter. Now rotating the steering wheel steers the car as it drives.
  • instant-message another user. Share your screen with them. Either user can control any object in realtime. Put objects from either machine into a shared space and they can interact.

He says the 4 big things going on in the future (Grand Challenges, and all relevant to International Development) are

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