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.
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.
- A powerful idea about ideas (2007, 20 minutes) — Kay's TED talk on education, created with a general audience in mind.
- Background on How Children Learn (2003, 3 pages) — A good and short introduction to Kay's ideas about childhood learning.
- The Real Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet (25 pages) — Kay includes several anecdotes of children's mathematical and scientific learning, and how EToys (and his other computer systems) were designed and intended to help children understand these powerful ideas.
- Doing with images makes symbols part 2 (1987, 54 minutes) — A summary of some of Kay's influences and ideas about learning (see part 1 for a history of early computing interfaces)
- A Personal Computer for Kids of All Ages (1972)— In this early essay, Kay lays down his inspirations for learning and how these are tied to his ideas of personal computers. This might be a good bridge to Kay's ideas on computing for those that are more interested in education than computing.
- Computers, Networks, and Education — In this 1991 Scientific American article, Kay discusses, among other things, the Apple Vivarium Project, an experimental curriculum he did with children at the LA Open School.
- Thoughts About Teaching Science and Mathematics To Young Children (4 pages) — An essay about how computers can (and currently don't) support children in understanding the deep ideas of science and mathematics.
Much of Kay's work is ultimately concerned with the development of humanity through media and powerful ideas.
- Powerful Ideas Need Love Too! (4 pages) — In this 1995 essay to Congress, Kay describes powerful ideas and how they differ from "story-based forms".
- Enlightened Imagination for Citizens (3 pages) — Kay describes why "systems thinking" is essential for citizens of democracies.
- The Future of Reading Depends on the Future of Learning Difficult To Learn Things (11 pages) — As in many of his publications, Kay blends together many different ideas, but in the first 3 pages of this essay, he motivates his ideas on learning with what that means for civilization.
For a comprehensive list of Kay's writings, see the Writings page.
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.
- Make sure all the references from this page make it onto this wiki: http://www.mprove.de/diplom/referencesKay.html
- Make sure all the references from this page make it onto this wiki: http://smalltalk.org.br/movies/
- Get links to Yoshiki's unlisted videos and put them on the wiki.
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.