Interfacing Knowledge: New Paradigms for Computing in the Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences


March 8-10 2002, University of California Santa Barbara


Alan Kay Introduction


William Warner

English, UC/Los Angeles

(all rights reserved)


It is a pleasure to welcome Alan Kay to our conference. If our conference is concerned with the way the new forms of the interface usher in new paradigms in computing and knowing, then it is appropriate that we hear from Alan Kay, for he is one of the creators of the graphical user interface we all use. 


Alan Kay received his BA from the University of Colorado, and his MA and Ph.d. from the University of Utah. In the years since then he has done research at Xerox PARC, MIT, Apple and Disney. One can gain some sense of Alan Kay’s contribution to computing from this quote from an interview with a 1991 issue of Byte Magazine:

“In 1968 I saw two or three things that changed my whole notion of computing. …Doug Englebart’s view [was] 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 Symour Papert’s first work with kids and LOGO, and I saw the first really great handwriting-character-recognition system at Rand… 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 superpaper.”


Alan Kay one of the first to see that to see that changing the scale and increasing the intimacy of the computer would greatly expand its uses and social value. He pursued this idea by developing the “Smalltalk” programming language, by helping to conceptualize object oriented programming, by promoting the use of graphics and animation in teaching children on the computer, and finally through a prototype laptop called the “Dynabook.”


It is a pleasure to welcome you, Alan Kay.