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ALAN KAY QUOTES


Collated by Paul Quek





In the autumn of 1968, Kay first met Seymour Papert at the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and became interested in the LOGO language. Kay's entire concept of the role of the computer in society was shaken when he watched Papert and his colleagues teaching children how to program in LOGO.
"In 1968 I saw two or three things that sort of changed my whole notion of computing. The way we had been thinking about it was sort of Doug Englebart's view that the mainframe was like a railroad, owned by an institution that decided what you could do and when you could do it. Englebart was trying to be like Henry Ford. A personal computer as it was thought of in the sixties was like an automobile. In 1968 I saw Seymour Papert's first work with kids and LOGO, and I saw the first really great handwriting-character-recognition system at Rand. It's a fabulous system. And that had a huge influence on me because it had an intimate feel. When I combined that with the idea that kids had to use it, the concept of a computer became something much more like a supermedium. Something more like a superpaper." [said Kay]

    -- From http://ei.cs.vt.edu/~history/GASCH.KAY.HTML



  1. A new point of view is worth 80 IQ points.


  2. If you don't fail at least 90 percent of the time, you're not aiming high enough.


  3. It [the computer] is a medium that can dynamically simulate the details of any other medium, including media that cannot exist physically. It is not a tool, although it can act like many tools.


  4. It [the computer] is the first metamedium, and as such it has degrees of freedom for representation and expression never before encountered and as yet barely investigated.


  5. My best results have come from odd takes on ideas around me -- more like rotations of point of view than incremental progress. For example, many of the strongest ingredients of my object-oriented ideas came from Ivan Sutherland's Sketchpad, Nygaard & Dahl's Simula, Bob Barton's B5000, the ARPAnet goal, Algebra and Biology. One of the deepest insights came from McCarthy's LISP. But the rotational result was a new and different species of programming and systems design that turned out to be critically useful at PARC and beyond.


  6. Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.


  7. School is basically about one point of view -- the one the teacher has.


  8. Simple things should be simple and complex things should be possible.


  9. Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.


  10. Somebody recently asked me what I am and I answered along the following lines: there is a discipline called mathematics, one called science, and one called engineering, and if those are put in a Venn diagram the intersection of the three is modern-day technology. Engineering was around a lot longer than science, but there is very little engineering that is done today that is not hooked into scientific investigation and scientific results. And math is the lingua franca for both of these disciplines.
          I would say that, temperamentally, I am basically an idealist, which makes me pretty much of a mathematician. Scientists tend to be realists, and engineers pragmatists. I am much more of an idealist than a realist or a pragmatist. In a way, when I think of myself, I think of myself as a scientist more than a mathematician or an engineer, but when I look at what I have done it has been mostly math and engineering and very little actual science. So these are just three ways of dealing with those things.


  11. The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

    Full Quote:

    Don't worry about what anybody else is going to do ... The best way to predict the future is to invent it. Really smart people with reasonable funding can do just about anything that doesn't violate too many of Newton's Laws!

    Another full Quote:

    "Xerox PARC (a computer science think tank for which Kay was a founding principal in 1970) was set up in Palo Alto to be as far away from corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut, as possible and still be in the continental U.S. We used to have visits from the Xerox executives -- usually in January and February -- and when we could get them off the tennis courts they would come into the building at PARC. Mainly they were worried about the future, and they would badger us about what's going to happen to us. Finally, I said: 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it. This is the century in which you can be proactive about the future; you don't have to be reactive. The whole idea of having scientists and technology is that those things you can envision and describe can actually be built.' It was a surprise to them and it worried them."


  12. The protean nature of the computer is such that it can act like a machine or like a language to be shaped and exploited.


  13. The real romance is out ahead and yet to come. The computer revolution hasn't started yet. Don't be misled by the enormous flow of money into bad defacto standards for unsophisticated buyers using poor adaptations of incomplete ideas [probably referring to fuckup implementations like Intel's CPU architecture and Microsoft's Windows OS!].






Check these out:

  • "Predicting The Future" -- By Alan C. Kay (from Stanford Engineering, Volume 1, Number 1, Autumn 1989, pg 1-6)
  • Distant Thunder: Interview in Context Magazine (1999)
  • "The Power Of The Context" by Alan Kay (Remarks upon being awarded with Bob Taylor, Butler Lampson and Chuck Thacker the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering, February 24, 2004 )
  • "Software Design, the Future of Programming and the Art of Learning" -- interview with Alan Kay (EduCom Review - March-April 1999)
  • "Revealing the Elephant: The Use and Misuse of Computers in Education" -- By Alan Kay (Educom Review July-August 1996)

  • mp3 -- Alan Kay, "The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet"

  • Alan Kay -- Viewpoints Research Institute (President: Alan Kay)
  • Alan Kay, by Scott Gasch (mirror of above)

  • Kay, Alan -- "Welcome to Squeakland" (27 December, 2005)
    Homepage of Squeakland
    Homepage of the Squeak programming language
  • Alan Kay Colloquium: Squeaking by on New Ideas

  • Alan Kay -- Smalltalk.orgTM

  • Smalltalk with object-oriented programming pioneer Kay
  • Alan Kay -- From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  • Alan Kay -- minnow.cc.gatech.edu
  • "A Conversation with Alan Kay" -- Programming Languages (Vol. 2, No. 9 - Dec/Jan 2004-2005)
  • Alan Kay -- unrev.stanford.edu
  • Pioneers | Alan Kay | Interface (1972)

  • Daddy, Are We There Yet? A Discussion with Alan Kay
  • Daddy, Are We There Yet? A Discussion with Alan Kay -- mirror page
  • Notes from "Daddy, Are We There Yet?"

  • Smalltalk Creator Wins 'Nobel Prize' of Computing -- Internetnews.com
  • What will Alan Kay do next? -- Macworld.com
  • Watch What I Do -- ebook (Foreword by Alan Kay)





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