Friday, February 27, 2004

Alan Kay and Team From Xerox Parc Win Draper Prize

The Draper Prize is the engineering equivalent of the Nobel prize. Alan Kay and his team at Xerox Parc won it and on NPR today they pointed out that Xerox management thought they were working on idiotic ideas when they invented the personal computer, the mouse, the laser printer, the graphical user interface, the ethernet, and Smalltalk.

Alan has appeared on these pages many times. The comment I made in the comp.lang.smalltalk newsgroup in 1994 was reposted by Chris Jones. It says it all:

From: Chris Jones (JONESC@BYUH.EDU)
Subject: The Early History of Smalltalk -Reply
Newsgroups: comp.lang.smalltalk
Date: 1995-01-20 20:41:54 PST

Many people have sent me email requesting the reference for Alan Kays article:

Alan C. Kay. The Early History of Smalltalk. ACM SIGPLAN Notices, Volume 28, No. 3, March 1993.

Believe it or not, this is the only article that you can always find on my desk. I was a student working periodically at the Stanford AI lab when Alan conceived of Smalltalk:

"The biggest hit for me while at SAIL in late '69 was to *really understand LISP*... I could hardly believe how beautiful and wonderful the *idea* of LISP was... My next question was, why on earth call if a functional language?... I could never get a good answer, but the question was very helpful when it came time to invent Smalltalk, because this started a line of thought that said "take the hardest and most profound thing you need to do, make it great, and then build every easier thing out of it". That was the promise of LISP and the lure of lambda -- needed was a better "hardest and most profound" thing. Objects should be it."

Alan went on to Xerox Parc in 1970. He showed us a slide with 6 pictures on it of what he invented in the next few years during the early 70's:

1. Smalltalk
2. The mouse
3. The GUI
4. The PC
5. Ethernet
6. The laser printer

Sigh. He didn't leave anything left for the rest of us...

Jeff Sutherland