Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Alan Kay, a requirement of life

During the centenary celebrations of Alan Turing, the Association of Computing Machinery brought together thirty recipients of the Turing Award, an annual award given by the association to the largest contributors to the computer. High-flying speeches were held to reconsider the legacy of Alan Turing, among which are that the winner of 2003, Alan Kay, a pioneer of modern computing, and author of many principles have influenced the entire industry.

The statue of Commander

The shadow of Alan Kay has always hovered on the course from Apple. First, because it was one of the architects of Xerox PARC, where many concepts of the modern computer were developed (and incidentally taken over by Steve Jobs after several visits, of illustrious memory): the GUI, network collaboration and standard Ethernet, laser printing, object-oriented programming, etc.. Then because he was an emeritus member of the Advanced Technology Group, the division responsible for research and development at Apple (QuickTime and where born, HyperCard, AppleScript, Data Detectors, and many others).

But beyond the principles he has developed, Alan Kay is also the author of many quotes that Jobs and evoked fond recursively. In presenting the history of iPhone, probably one of the very best fire Jobs' keynote, he mentioned Alan Kay as follows:

"One of the pioneers of our industry, Alan Kay, gave us many good aphorisms over the years. I came across one of them recently, which explains how we approach things. This explains why we do things this way because we are passionate about software.

Here is the quote: "All who take very seriously the software should make their own hardware."

Alan said that this is now 30 years, and that's what we think. "
Alan Kay was conveniently in the audience at the invitation of Steve Jobs. At the end of the now legendary presentation, Jobs was curious to hear his impressions. Alan Kay recounted the interview:

"When the Mac first came out, Newsweek asked me what I thought. I said, well, this is the first personal computer worthy of criticism. And then at the end of the presentation, Steve came to me and asked: Is the iPhone worthy of criticism? And I said: Make it a screen with a five by eight inches, and you will rule over the world. "

It must be said that among the achievements of Kay, one finds the concept of the Dynabook particular, invented in 1968, which a lot like an iPad which we have grafted a keyboard below the screen. (Alan Kay, fairly quick to quote himself, also says the Tablet-PC is the "first computer similar to the Dynabook that is worthy of criticism"). If the Dynabook remained at the concept stage, never to be made, we felt its influence since the first laptops to the present.

But back to the ceremony in honor of Alan Turing: Andrew Binstock, site dedicated to the development of Dr. Dobbs, attended lectures and took the opportunity to interview Alan Kay. Now aged 72, the man does not lay his legendary bluntness: it still lacks its proverbial sentences and judgments of the lapidary industry in general. The conversation, as transcribed by Binstock, seems somewhat disjointed, despite the efforts already made in the editorial transcribe: the brilliant mind is still sharp and touches everything. If Apple is not named once we find some watermark themes that are dear to him, however. Binstock starts back on the childhood of Alan Kay, in particular to clarify one of the features of his legend: in the age to enter the PC, he had already read a hundred books and was quickly found that teachers lied to him regularly. Alan Kay confirms the story, and adds that this critical early embryo has the conformation to the mold made of the school somewhat delicate. The story is more serious consequences than it appears, because throughout his career, until today, Alan Kay was particularly interested in education. But it is especially traumatic images from Buchenwald who motivate later became interested in education, not so much by a desire to help children, but to make them better adults in the future. Praise to criticism ... Alan Kay is working conscientiously to render unto Caesar what belongs to him, citing many of his distinguished colleagues and their own footprint in the industry. He cites the progress made by many Europeans: the British William Newman, Christopher Strachey, Peter Landin, exiled in the U.S. following the crisis of the early 60s, have each contributed to advances in U.S. (William Newman has also served on the Xerox PARC). Kay also mentioned the French as Patrick Baudelaire, who contributed to the development of scalable fonts in PARK or Henri Gouraud who developed the algorithm for 3D shading that bears his name. Alan Kay also points out the merits of Vinton Cerf, one of the "fathers" of TCP / IP and winner of the Turing Award in 2004: "This is a unique type. Not only for his brain. This is one of the best conductors. If you had not distinguished one person, since the Internet was a community effort, one that ensures that this community works, it was Vint. And it was also the co-author of TCP / IP. I love it. I have known him for years. It manages its meetings and organized so hard, but he does it so well that everyone appreciates. " But if Kay distributes the good points, he did not neglect to point out the worst, revealing a somewhat bilious kind. The computer is for him like Pop Culture, always in the moment and feverishly, without regard to the past or for a long term vision. It underlines that pop culture has its virtues and it may prove valuable in a dialogue with more basic research, but is concerned that the industry is about more than this immediacy: "The Pop Culture disdains the History. Pop Culture is devoted to any identity and spirit of participation. It has nothing to do with cooperation, the past or the future - everything is in this. I think it is also true for those who code for money. They have no idea where does their culture - and the Internet was designed so that many people perceive it as a natural resource, such as the Pacific Ocean, rather than something made by hand of man. When was the last technology of such a scale that has been so error-free? The Web by comparison is a joke. The Web was done by amateurs. "

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