Frontier Journal (FJ):
You worked for Xerox (PARC), Atari, Apple, Disney and HP in your
entire career in industry, which company was most innovative one you
believe when you were on duty at that time?
Alan Kay (AK):
A tricky question. Xerox PARC was the most innovative company
group that I worked for, largely because Bob Taylor (who had been a
Deputy Director of the famous ARPA-IPTO research community in the
60s) in the early 70s set up a research environment that had very
good people, the best kind of funding and charter, and could choose
its own directions. Xerox as a company got less innovative as the 70s
evolved and had great difficulty recognizing the many research
results from PARC.
Apple was innovative enough to try to adapt the PARC ideas, but, as
Steve Jobs has said publically a few times, did not have enough
perspective to understand and recognize the more subtle ones (how
object-oriented programming was done there, innovative HW
architectures that PARC invented and used, the Ethernet, etc.).
Personal Computing as opposed to main frame, has offered us,
every individual great convenience in our daily life during past 3
decades, what do you believe is the future of Personal Computing?
When Gandhi was asked what he thought about Western Civilization,
he said he thought it would be a good idea! I don't think the
personal computer revolution has happened yet, in part because only a
few surface ideas have been commercialized, and because every new
medium has a special new kind of "literacy" that appears after some
decades of imitating old media, and we haven't gotten close to that
authentic literacy (which, analogously to writing and reading, is
about authoring and dealing with "computer stuff" rather than
"computer stuff imitating old stuff").
So, let's hope with Gandhi that Western Civilization is possible, and
a smaller part of that would be to hope that the real computer
revolution will happen and not stay bogged down in its current myopia.
Object-Oriented Technology, starting from SmallTalk, to C++ and
Java, has made software development much more easier, yet it still
could not fill the productivity gap that is still widening, what do
you believe is the future of Object-Oriented Technology?
Like "Personal Computing", I coined "Object-Oriented" to stand
for very particular ways to design things. But both of these terms
today are just paint that is put on anything to make it more trendy
and seem forward looking. For example, the differences between
Smalltalk and both C++ and Java are large and profound, and can't
really be discussed in the same category, nor do they have anywhere
near the same order of magnitude of productivity improvement. That
being said, it is quite fair to say that none of them are well-suited
to software tasks in the 21st century, so making comparisons between
them doesn't add anything.
One way to look at this is that SW and especially programming
languages have not scaled with Moore's Law -- and for various
reasons, the most popular and most used languages today are still
quite mired in 60s notions of language and programming (so the few
real advances in the 70s are not being used today). And today is 30
years after the 70s, so the situation is dire.
It's not so easy to completely reinvent programming, even though that
is what is needed. There are about a dozen ideas that are not now
used in a deep and fundamental way in programming languages and
operating environments that could have great potential to get part
way up the mountain. We've just received substantial funding from NSF
and other sources to try to make something that would be a Moore's
Law jump in software if successful. But my favorite quote in
computing is from Don Knuth: "Beware of the above code, I have only
proved it correct, but have not yet tried it" In other words, we have
to do real implementations in computing to have any real sense of
whether ideas might be good or simply mediocre (as most ideas are).
Being both a computer scientist and a musician, what's in common
between programming and composing? How to discover a solution space
that could perfectly matches a given problem space assuming there is
a solution for the problem?
To me those two questions don't go together. Although there is
some problem-solving in the practicing of any art, Art is not
primarily about problem solving. And the aesthetics of the two arts
are rather different, though both can have great beauty. One meeting
ground is similar to the aesthetics of mathematics, the relationships
and how things can fit, the surprise of simplicity and profundity in
the same forms, etc.
Could you elaborate to us how you invented Smalltalk and Alto
among others in brief? Where did your creativity come from at that
time? Is that possible for such creative process be formulated?
These are well documented in the "Early History of Smalltalk"
essay that I wrote for the ACM. Please let me know if you can't obtain this.
In your current role as President of Viewpoints Research
Institute, you are working on improving both general education and
understanding of complex systems, especially through the use of new
inventions in interactive constructive computing, do you think
education reform in the US is more important than other reforms such
as retirement plan reform, healthcare reform and immigration policy
reform? If yes, why is that?
If we think of education (as opposed to "training") as primarily
being about helping learners become more aware, gain more
perspectives, learn to think better (and to realize when they are not
thinking well), etc. then "education" is far more important than any
of the other reforms that you mention, since it is required for any
reasonable thinking to be done about almost any issue.
With the rapid advance in hardware engineering, software
engineering, system engineering as well as mechanical engineering,
thanks to computer-aided technologies such as EDA, CASE, MCAD among
others, will it be possible true AI be a reality? In other words,
robots might design and (re)produce robots by themselves without any
human being's intervention. From ethnical point of view, should such
innovation automation be prevented even before it gives birth
I don't think there has been a rapid advance in software
engineering, etc. And, computer intelligence like biological
intelligence (like life itself) is much more an architectural than an
engineering project. That is, engineers can build arches, but
thousands of years of engineering were done before arches were
invented. It is more likely that fake intelligence will be produced
and believed in. And this is quite in line with the fake intelligence
of most human beings (and their belief in it). Early on, we should
worry more about the ethics of human behavior and the nature of our
own artificial intelligences.
© Copyright 2012 Inno Inc
All Rights Reserved
Back to Home Page