Alan Kay


Amongst Alan Kay's many achievements are several that influenced education technology: the Vivarium Program, Dynabook, Smalltalk (object-oriented programming - iae-pedia), his work with Seymour Papert (particularly PLATO), and his work at XEROX PARC (workstations, user interfaces, desktop publishing, the Ethernet, laser printing, and network client-servers.)

Two quotes describe aspects of his general philosophy;
"... this encounter finally hit me with what the destiny of personal computing really was going to be. Not a personal dynamic vehicle , as in Engelbart's metaphor opposed to IBM 'railroads', but something much more profound: a personal dynamic medium. With a vehicle one could wait until high school and give 'drivers ed', but if it was a medium, it had to extend into the world of childhood."
"The best way to predict the future is to invent it."

Section 1

The Official Alan Kay one-page biography (pdf)
A more extensive description is available at iae-pedia.

Section 2

Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit he founded in 2001 to promote "powerful ideas education" for the world's children.

Main Content

Vivarium Program

The Apple Vivarium program was an innovative learning, education, and teaching exercise that started in 1986. It investigated new opportunities provided by technology to create a student-directed and teacher-facilitated environment where students were directed by their curiosity and intuition and teachers used in-room resources to facilitate the students' progress. Software was developed to readily allow users to create their own lessons and environments. The effort was phased out in the early 90s.


Smalltalk is considered the ancestor of modern higher-level computer languages. It was an object-oriented programming language designed to make computers more personal by changing computing, not the computer. One of the goals was to enable anyone, including students and teachers, to program their computers based on their needs.

Seymour Papert / PLATO

From the PLATO History web site;
"The PLATO system was created in 1960 at the University of Illinois. Initially it ran as a one-terminal system connected to the ILLIAC computer. By 1963, the system was running on a CDC 1604 with multiple simultaneous users. By 1972, the system had expanded to run a thousand simultaneous users on a CDC CYBER mainframe. Control Data Corporation began marketing PLATO commercially in 1976, resulting in PLATO system installations in dozens of cities around the world. Many of these systems were interconnected, enabling email and remote logins through the network. For nearly ten years, there were more users on PLATO than there were on ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet."


Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)

From the official PARC About page
"Since its inception, PARC has pioneered many technology platforms – from the Ethernet and laser printing to the GUI and ubiquitous computing – and has enabled the creation of many industries."

From Xerox PARC turns 40: Marking four decades of tech innovations - Computerworld September 20, 2010
"For 40 years, the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (commonly called Xerox PARC, now just PARC) has been a place of technological creativity and bold ideas. The inventions it has spawned, from Ethernet networking to laser printing and the graphical user interface (GUI), have led to myriad technologies that allow us to use computers in ways that we take for granted today.
When it opened on July 1, 1970, PARC was set up as a division of Xerox Corp. The idea was to invest in PARC as a springboard for developing new technologies and fresh concepts that would lead to future products."

From Making the Macintosh - The Xerox PARC Visit - Stanford
"In short, PARC's prominence, its large number of visitors, the diffusion of its staff, and the publications it generated, all made it influential in computer science, and-- through more indirect means-- the personal computer and workstation industries in the 1980s."


A summary of the Dynabook from's The Dynabook of Alan Kay
"In 1968 Kay created a very interesting concept—the Dynabook. He wanted to make A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages—a thin portable computer, highly dynamic device that weighed no more than two pounds The ideas led to the development of the Xerox Alto prototype, which was originally called the interim Dynabook. It embodied all the elements of a graphical user interface, or GUI, as early as 1972. The software component of this research was Smalltalk, which went on to have a life of its own independent of the Dynabook concept."

Dynabook Video

Section 2

Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit he founded in 2001 to promote "powerful ideas education" for the world's children.


Notes from Ann Marion

He has been a:
  • Xerox Fellow,
  • Chief Scientist of Atari,
  • Apple Fellow,
  • Disney Fellow, and
  • HP Senior Fellow.
He is currently an Adjunct Professor of Computer Science at UCLA. In 2001, he founded Viewpoints Research Institute.

Section 2

Additional References