A Visit With Alan Kay


The photo caption should have read, I’m on Alan’s left. Alan Kay is a fairly Famous Guy, but who’s ever seen Jeff Atwood’s face?


You should be proud, Jeff!


s/Jeff Atwood/Jeff Moser/


Isn’t it funny that we are starting to talk about learning in the context of computers, when most computers facilitate the opposite of learning.

Now that kids have calculators, they no longer need to learn times tables and maths. Just for kicks, go to a shop with 1 large note and some coins, and AFTER the shop attendand rings up your purchase (seeing the large note in your hand), also hand them the change so that you should get only notes back. e.g. $7 purchase, hand them $10 and then $2 in change. Watch the look of horror on their faces.

People (me included) don’t learn to spell any more because that’s what spell checkers are for.

My point is, the easier computers make our life the more they facilitate a non-learning ethos. The latest development tools are so easy, and programming so intuitive that I’m finding the reference books have to target lower and lower audiences, and are now filled with cartoon examples and basic programming tips.

That isn’t to say that computers can’t be used for learning, I’m just making an observation that they, like all technology, appear to be assisting in the dumbing down of our society (have you read any comments on youtube at all???).


Couldn’t watch the video. It said it was currently not available.


My students often ask: Why do we study the history of computing? What do these old hackers have to do with anything happening today?

Thanks, Jeff Jeff, for helping answering that question, again and again.


Regarding computer usefulness versus entertainment.

The same happened with Music, and Story-telling, and Drawing, and Speaking, Sex, and whatever you might come up with. Humans are inherently a playful species, and we like to entertain our selves. Its our instinct, and there is nothing wrong with it.

Now of course some people like to imagine they aren’t human, and that they are better pure learning,education creatures, but the reality of our genes has encoded us to be educated through play, not abstraction.


Though it could be easily argued what is the point in studying the history of computing because the past created what we are experiencing now and still we all argue about the respective beauty or not of a particular programming language. We have really not got anywhere, so in a sense history has failed us.


jlarson: I can see the text just fine in Chrome.

Jeff: Great post!



Lucky Man! :slight_smile:


Speculating from discussions, I’d say that the problem he sees is that computers should help us become better thinkers rather than distracting/entertaining ourselves to death. Alan likes to use the example that our pop culture is more concerned with air guitar and Guitar Hero rather than appreciating genuine beauty and expressiveness of real instruments

I think Alan is trying to tell you something Jeff A. :wink:


I can’t stand reading reprints.


Interesting to learn that Kay is respected musician having played Jazz guitar professionally in the past.

So many of the best minds I have met in computing have a love for music. Is it something to do with being able to see beauty in complex numerical systems?


Oh snap, did Kay just dis Rock Band? That’s it - banned from the site!


You’re wrong… Only the best at anything do anything at all.


Let me coin a word for your content over the past two months…

Blegoat. Let the best of you decipher.


So the Turing Award badge… Is it platinum? Titanium?


So many of the best minds I have met in computing have a love for music.

Here’s a stab: Music harnesses formal structure and command of detail, describing a process unfolding in time, to achieve expression, to elicit deep emotions, to move people, and to teach.

A meta-analogy: Instrumental musicians often say that their ideal is to emulate the suppleness and expressiveness of the human voice. To do so, they must slowly develop a specific body of detailed technique on their instrument, whereas, they suppose, vocalists have immediate command of their instrument. Of course, that isn’t quite true; vocalists must come to see their voice objectively, and learn how to use it.

(Also see this review of Edward Rothstein’s ‘Emblems of Mind: The Inner Life of Music and Mathematics’:


Yes. Simula introduced object oriented programming

SIMULA I (1962-65) and Simula 67 (1967) are the two first object-oriented languages. Simula 67 introduced most of the key concepts of object-oriented programming: both objects and classes, subclasses (usually referred to as inheritance) and virtual procedures, combined with safe referencing and mechanisms for bringing into a program collections of program structures described under a common class heading (prefixed blocks).

Quote from http://heim.ifi.uio.no/kristen/FORSKNINGSDOK_MAPPE/F_OO_start.html


Computer scientist Kay was the leader of the group that invented
object-oriented programming

I don’t believe that statement is precisely correct. As I understand it, they coined the phrase, but the ideas were there earlier (in Simula-67, for example)