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Alan Kay

Alan Curtis Kay (born May 17, 1940) is an American computer scientist, known for his early pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design. He is the president of the Viewpoints Research Institute, and an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is also on the advisory board of TTI/Vanguard. Until mid 2005, he was a Senior Fellow at HP Labs, a Visiting Professor at Kyoto University, and an Adjunct Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Early life and work

Originally from Springfield, Massachusetts, Kay attended the University of Colorado at Boulder, earning a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics and Molecular Biology. Before and during this time, he worked as a professional jazz guitarist.

In 1966, he began graduate school at the University of Utah, earning a Master's degree and Ph.D.. There, he worked with Ivan Sutherland, who had done pioneering graphics programs including Sketchpad. This greatly inspired Kay's evolving views on objects and programming. As he grew busier with ARPA research, he quit his career as a professional musician.

In 1968, he met Seymour Papert and learned of the Logo programming language, a dialect of Lisp optimized for educational use. This led him to learn of the work of Jean Piaget, Jerome Bruner, Lev Vygotsky, and of Constructivism. These further influenced his views.

In 1970, Kay joined Xerox Corporation's Palo Alto Research Center, PARC. In the 1970s he was one of the key members there to develop prototypes of networked workstations using the programming language Smalltalk. These inventions were later commercialized by Apple Computer in their Lisa and Macintosh computers.

Kay is one of the fathers of the idea of object-oriented programming, which he named, along with some colleagues at PARC and predecessors at the Norwegian Computing Center. He conceived the Dynabook concept which defined the conceptual basics for laptop and tablet computers and E-books, and is the architect of the modern overlapping windowing graphical user interface (GUI). Because the Dynabook was conceived as an educational platform, Kay is considered to be one of the first researchers into mobile learning, and indeed, many features of the Dynabook concept have been adopted in the design of the One Laptop Per Child educational platform, with which Kay is actively involved.

After 10 years at Xerox PARC, Kay became Atari's chief scientist for three years.

Recent work and recognition

Starting in 1984, Kay was an Apple Fellow at Apple Computer until the closing of the ATG (Advanced Technology Group), one of the company's R&D divisions. He then joined Walt Disney Imagineering as a Disney Fellow and remained there until Disney ended its Disney Fellow program. After Disney, in 2001 he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to children, learning, and advanced software development.

Later, Kay worked with a team at Applied Minds, then became a Senior Fellow at Hewlett-Packard until HP disbanded the Advanced Software Research Team on July 20 2005. He is currently head of Viewpoints Institute.

Squeak, Etoys, and Croquet

In December 1995, when he was still at Apple, Kay collaborated with many others to start the open source Squeak dynamic media software, and he continues to work on it. In this time, in November 1996, his team began research on what became the Etoys system. More recently he started, along with David A. Smith, David P. Reed, Andreas Raab, Rick McGeer, Julian Lombardi, and Mark McCahill, the Croquet Project, which is an open source networked 2D and 3D environment for collaborative work.

Tweak

In 2001, it became clear that the Etoy architecture in Squeak had reached its limits in what the Morphic interface infrastructure could do. Andreas Raab was a researcher working in Kay's group, then at Hewlett-Packard. He proposed defining a "script process" and providing a default scheduling mechanism that avoids several more general problems The result was a new user interface, proposed to replace the Squeak Morphic user interface in the future. Tweak added mechanisms of islands, asynchronous messaging, players and costumes, language extensions, projects, and tile scripting Its underlying object system is class-based, but to users (during programming) it acts like it is prototype-based. Tweak objects are created and run in Tweak project windows.

Children's Machine

In November 2005, at the World Summit on the Information Society, the MIT research laboratories unveiled a new laptop computer, for educational use around the world. It has many names: the $100 Laptop, the One Laptop per Child program, the Children's Machine, and the XO-1. The program was begun and is sustained by Kay's friend, Nicholas Negroponte, and is based on Kay's Dynabook ideal. Kay is a prominent co-developer of the computer, focusing on its educational software using Squeak and Etoys.

Reinventing programming

Kay has lectured extensively on the idea that the Computer Revolution is very new, and all of the good ideas have not been universally implemented. Lectures at OOPSLA 1997 conference and his ACM Turing award talk, entitled "The Computer Revolution Hasn't Happened Yet" were informed by his experiences with Sketchpad, Simula, Smalltalk, and the bloated code of commercial software. On 31 August 2006, Kay's proposal to the United States National Science Foundation, NSF, was granted, thus funding Viewpoints Research Institute for several years. The proposal title is: Steps Toward the Reinvention of Programming: A compact and Practical Model of Personal Computing as a Self-exploratorium A sense of what Kay is trying to do comes from this quote, from the abstract of a seminar on this given at Intel Research Labs, Berkeley: "The conglomeration of commercial and most open source software consumes in the neighborhood of several hundreds of millions of lines of code these days. We wonder: how small could be an understandable practical "Model T" design that covers this functionality? 1M lines of code? 200K LOC? 100K LOC? 20K LOC?"

The system being developed makes extensive use of parsing via a bottom up rewrite grammar , ,

Besides Kay, several key persons are working on this effort. Ted Kaehler and Dan Ingalls are former Xerox PARC researchers who have worked with Kay for decades; Ingalls now works at Sun Microsystems. Ian Piumarta is a former INRIA researcher , with Alessandro (Alex) Warth, a UCLA Ph.D. computer science student ; both now work at Viewpoints. Piumarta's work is documented on his website , and includes the Virtual Virtual Machine, a multi-language, hardware independent execution platform Andreas Raab lead the Tweak effort while working at Impara GmbH, he now works for Qwaq Inc Yoshiki Ohshima , a former student at Tokyo Institute of Technology, ported Squeak to Sharp Zaurus, maintains the iPAQ port, and made a multilingual Squeak.

Awards and honors

Alan Kay has received many awards and honors. Among them:

Other honors: J-D Warnier Prix d’Informatique, ACM Systems Software Award, NEC Computers & Communication Foundation Prize, Funai Foundation Prize, Lewis Branscomb Technology Award, ACM SIGCSE Award for Outstanding Contributions to Computer Science Education.

Personal background

Kay is an avid and skilled musician who plays keyboard instruments and guitar. He has a special interest in early keyboard instruments like the baroque pipe organ and old guitars. He was a former professional jazz and rock and roll guitarist. He is married to Bonnie MacBird, a writer, actor, artist, television producer who shares his passion for music.

References

2. Pendulum refers to Alan Kay's famous quote "The best way to predict the future is to invent it." in their song Distress Signal.

Articles

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