Alan Kay Wikia


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Alan KayEdit

This is a wiki for understanding computer pioneer Alan Kay's research, including the personal computer and the advancement of humanity.

You may not know Alan Kay's name, but if you're reading this on a computer or mobile device, you're touching technology directly influenced by his work. Kay is one of the major contributors to the idea of the personal computer.  In popular history, Adele Goldberg and Dan Ingalls showed the work of Alan's group at Xerox PARC during the famous demonstration to Steve Jobs that lead to the user interface for the Macintosh.  This became the common interface for most contemporary software.

But Kay's research goes far beyond this contribution. His research spans ideas about learning and education, user interfaces, software engineering, media theory, computer programming, human perception, art, science, democracy, biology, and more. This wiki exists to collect these ideas and make them accessible to those who would benefit from them.

Alan Kay's published work consists mainly of

You can browse these sections or start with smaller selections of his work below.

Where to start Edit

If you are new to Kay's work, you might use these short selections of his works as starting points:

Computer Programming and Media Edit

Alan Kay and his collaborators have made Smalltalk, Squeak, eToys, contributions to the One Laptop Per Child program, and several inventions as part of the STEPs Reinventing Programming group.

  • Personal Dynamic Media (1977, 12 pages) — Kay and collaborator Adele Goldberg summarize their research on dynamic media in the 1970s and show examples of the kinds of things their users were able to do with their Smalltalk computing environment.
  • The Early History of Smalltalk — Kay gives a detailed account of the influences and events that lead to the various versions of Smalltalk invented and developed at Xerox PARC in the 1970s.
  • Steps Toward the Reinvention of Programming (2012) — A summary of the NSF-funded project Kay lead to reinvent programming in drastically fewer lines of code than today's systems.
  • Programming and Scaling (50 minutes) — In this dizzying talk to a computer science audience, Kay describes his dreams of robust software systems, and why today's systems have fallen flat as engineering projects.

Education Edit

Alan Kay's work on computers is motivated directly by his visions for the education of all people, but especially children. He has worked directly with children since the 70s, first at Xerox PARC, then at Apple and Disney and has contributed to software running on the One Laptop Per Child initiative.


Much of Kay's work is ultimately concerned with the development of humanity through media and powerful ideas.

Writings Edit

For a comprehensive list of Kay's writings, see the Writings page.

Talks Edit

For a comprehensive list of Kay's talks, see the Talks page.

Higher Level Concepts / Glossary Edit

For a glossary of Kay's commonly referenced ideas, see the Glossary.

Contributing to this wiki Edit

There are several ways to contribute to this wiki.

First, if you find links to any of Alan Kay's works that aren't yet on the wiki, please add them!

Second, the glossary page always need work to capture higher level ideas.

Third, if you feel like this wiki is missing anything, feel free to add it. This wiki operates on a trust-based model.

Fourth, here is a little to-do list.


Aside from concrete things to do, there are also aspirational tasks that I hope an Alan Kay wiki could have one day.


  • It would be nice to actually host all of Alan's publications on the wiki so that links won't break and content won't disappear. It would be wonderful if this could be done in a distributed way so that there would be multiple redundant copies of all media and anyone that wanted to keep the content public could host it. IPFS or some other distributed web system might be a good experiment. It would also be nice if the wiki was hosted on a longer-term service than Wikia.
  • Redesign Alan's talks and papers as interactive media with cross-references and automatic explanations of concepts. Alan has a lot of recurring tropes and it would be great if you could see all the contexts in which he's referenced them. It would also be great if we could get really good transcripts of Alan's talks so that they could be searchable.
  • Dynamically figure out which of Alan's works a visitor would like based on their context and give them suggested reading orders. This kind of artificially intelligent tutor is one of Alan's research directions and I think it could be very helpful for getting a good introduction to a deep set of subjects.
1200px-Alan Kay (3097597186)

Alan Kay at the 2008 40th anniversary of The Mother of All Demos

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