Alan Kay lcc 2700: Intro to Computational Media Alan Kay (1970’s) Dynabook concept

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Alan Kay

Alan Kay (1970’s)

  • Dynabook concept

  • Xerox PARC Alto: GUI PC

  • Small Talk: object oriented programming language

  • Still innovating: SQUEAK, WIKIs

Sketchpad (Ivan Sutherland, 1963)

Alan Kay’s narration of Ivan Sutherland’s video of Sketchpad

  • Sketchpad 1963: first drawing program

  • First use of multiple windows

  • Kay emphasizes the “non-procedural” programming, e.g. knowledge of objects; dynamic generation and modification of graphics

  • In our terms he is emphasizing the procedural power of the system

SpaceWar! (1962)

Prototype of Dynabook (1968)

Dynabook dreamed up in 1968

  • Back in 1968 when I made this cardboard model I thought of it as the machine of the future and started thinking about what would it be like for millions of people to have one of these machines. …. Could people actually use it? And the answer in 1968 and the early 1970s was no. …. And I remembered a wonderful phrase of Marshall McLuhan. He said, I don't know who discovered water, but it wasn't a fish. The idea is if you are immersed in a context you can't even see it. So we decided to follow Seymour Papert's lead and … try and see what this Dynabook of the future would be like for children …


Alan Kay & Adele Goldberg (PARC) “Personal Dynamic Media” 1977

Alan Kay & Adele Goldberg (PARC) The Dynabook

The Dynabook

  • A personal dynamic medium the size of a notebook…which could be owned by everyone and could have the power to handle virtually all of its owner’s information-related needs.

  • We are exploring the use of [smalltalk and “interim Dynabooks”] as a programming and problem solving tool; as an interactive memory for the storage and manipulation of data; as a text editor; and as a medium for expression through drawing, painting, animating pictures and composing and generating music.

Xerox Alto 1973 (ten years before first commercial PCs)

  • The Alto personal computer becomes operational. As it evolves, the Alto will feature the world's first What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get (WYSIWYG) editor, a commercial mouse for input, a graphical user interface (GUI), and bit-mapped display, and will offer menus and icons, link to a local area network and store files simultaneously.


Xerox Alto 1973 : Alan Kay’s Smalltalk

  • Smalltalk is the first object-oriented programming language with an integrated user interface, overlapping windows, integrated documents, and cut & paste editor.

  • The concept that objects are described and addressed individually, and can be linked together with other objects without having to rewrite an entire program, will revolutionize the software industry. Smalltalk will later heavily influence C++ and Java programming systems.


Dynabook: computer as metamedium

  • Explosion of creative applications piled into a single essay: examples from art, music, writing, hospital simulation, animation…

  • Although digital computers were originally designed to do arithmetic computation, the ability to simulate the details of any descriptive model means that the computer, viewed as a medium itself, can be all other media if the embedding and viewing methods are sufficiently well provided. Moreover, this new “metamedium” is active.

Invention of a medium

  • Knowledge Navigator

  • Apple’s 1987/88 hypothetical promotional video

  • What is routine now? What isn’t? What can and can’t we accomplish?

  • The computer helps us do things

    • Vs
  • The computer changes the way we do thing

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