straight up
Alan Kay


Click to play videoAlan Kay speaking about media


Many ideas come from previous ideas. The sixties, particularly in the ARPA community, gave rise to a host of notions about "human-computer symbiosis" through interactive time-shared computers, graphics screens and pointing devices. Advanced computer languages were invented to simulate complex systems such as oil refineries and semi-intelligent behavior. The soon to follow paradigm shift of modern personal computing, overlapping window interfaces, and object-oriented design came from seeing the work of the sixties as something more than a "better old thing". Instead the promise of exponential growth in computing demanded that the sixties might be regarded as "almost a new thing" and to find out what the actual "new thing" might be.

For example, once you would compute with a handheld "Dynabook" in a way that would not be possible on a shared mainframe; millions of potential users meant that the user interface would have to become a learning environment; and needs for large scope, reduction in complexity, and end-user literacy would require that data and control structures be done away with in favor of a more biological scheme of protected universal cells interacting only through messages that could mimic any desired behavior.

Smalltalk was the first complete realization of these new points of view as parented by its many predecessors in hardware, language and user interface design. It became the exemplar of the new computing, in part, because we were actually trying for a qualitative shift in belief structures – a new paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the printing press – and thus took took highly extreme positions which almost forced these new styles to be invented."

So, the answer is, is that this stuff is for all of us and the reason it works is not because the goodness of computer science in it, although there is some there, the main reason it works is because for some reason we decided to study human beings and involve lots of human beings called children in our experiment and try to stay closely coupled to them for a number of years and out of that came a bunch of ideas that couldn't have come sprung just from technology alone. So if it weren't for the multiple mentality ideas of Jerome Bruner and a host of other sources like Suzuki's method of teaching violin and others too numerous to mention we never would have thought of these ideas and implemented them the way that we did.

Texts by Alan Kay
Edited by Randall Packer

Culled from the following sources:

• "The Early History of Smalltalk;" History of Programming Languages II; Alan Kay; ACM; 1996

• "Doing With Images Makes Symbols;" Lecture by Alan Kay at the "Distinguished Lecture Series" sponsored by Apple Computer; 1987

• "User Interface: A Personal View;" The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design; Alan Kay; 1989

• "A Conversation with Alan Kay;" Interactions; 1994