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"ACM Turing Lecture: Introductions To Computing Should Be Child's Play"
Object-Oriented Programming, Systems, Languages and Applications
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 : Tuesday

ACM Turing Lecture: Introductions To Computing Should Be Child's Play

Ballroom A-B
Tuesday, 17:30, 1 hour


Alan Kay

The 2003 Turing Award has been given to Alan Kay "For pioneering many of the ideas at the root of contemporary object-oriented programming languages, leading the team that developed Smalltalk, and for fundamental contributions to personal computing."

The best way to predict the future is to invent it!
-Alan Kay

FLEX Machine, 1968 Alan Kay is one of the earliest pioneers of object-oriented programming, personal computing and graphical user interfaces. His contributions been recognized with the Charles Stark Draper Prize of the National Academy of Engineering (with Robert Taylor, Butler Lampson, and Charles Thacker), the A.M. Turing Award from the Association of Computing Machinery, and the Kyoto Prize from the Inamori Foundation. This work was done in the rich context of ARPA and Xerox PARC with many talented colleagues.

While at the ARPA project at the University of Utah in the late 60s, he invented dynamic object-oriented programming, was part of the original team that developed continuous tone 3D graphics, was the codesigner of the FLEX Machine, an early desktop computer with graphical user interface and object-oriented operating system, conceived the Dynabook, a laptop personal computer for children of all ages, and participated in the design of the ARPAnet.

At Xerox PARC, inspired by children, he invented Smalltalk (with important contributions by Dan Ingalls), the first completely object-oriented authoring and operating system (which included the now ubiquitous overlapping window interface), instigated the bit-map screen, screen painting and animation, participated in desk-top publishing, other desktop media, and the development of the Alto, the first modern networked personal computer. This was part of the larger process at PARC that created an entire genre of personal computing including: the Ethernet, Laserprinters, modern word processing, client-servers and peer-peer networking.

He has been a Xerox Fellow, Chief Scientist of Atari, Apple Fellow, and Disney Fellow. In 2001 he founded Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to children and learning. He is currently a Senior Fellow at HP Labs, an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at UCLA and a Visiting Professor at Kyoto University.

He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Computer History Museum.

He has a BA in Mathematics and Biology with minor concentrations in English and Anthropology from the University of Colorado, 1966. MS and PhD in Computer Science (both with distinction) from the University of Utah, 1968 and 1969, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Kungl Tekniska Hoegskolan in Stockholm.

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

He entered show business in the 50s as a professional jazz guitarist. Much of his subsequent work combined music and theatrical production. Today he is an avid amateur classical pipe organist.


Perhaps the most disturbing "trend which became reality" over the last 25 years has been a recharacterization and professing of the various computing fields as though Computer Science and Software Engineering have actually been invented and can be taught in ways that parallel fields such as physics and structural engineering. This is "science & engineering envy" pure and simple!

The result is that so much of what is taught in high schools and universities looks backwards—not for historical interest, which is almost absent, or even to great ideas of the past—but (a) to emphasize what all too often have been workarounds for what we don't yet know how to do, and (b) to substitute vocational training for real knowledge and perspective.

One of the most interesting characteristics of computing in the best universities of the 1960s was that the professors told the students that nothing much of importance was known, and it was the duty of all to try to invent a real computing science and software engineering. This was a very healthy attitude and led to many good starts towards qualitatively better approaches to our exciting area of interest. Just as "civilization" is not a place or state, but a process of people who are trying to be more civilized, real computing is the process of people trying to make a better notion of computing. The most progress will be made by young people who have been encouraged to criticize old conceptions and invent new ones with an elevated notion of what constitutes a high threshold for a good idea.

It is the duty of all enfranchised computerists to help this happen. Since our paths of thinking are so conditioned by the early environments we put so much effort into learning, it is of critical importance to pay the highest attention to the introductions to our field for children, young adults and college students. This talk is about how we might introduce computing to beginners to help them see the real beauties and possibilities of our field in a way that will both get them fluent in the small amout of good stuff that is known, and most importantly to encourage them to make qualitative improvements in computing.