Kay, Alan

Kay at the CHI 86 Conference on Human Factors in Computing in April 1986 in Boston, MA.
Kay and Randy Trigg (right) speak at the ACM CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing in April 1986 in Boston, MA. The annual CHI conference is the leading international forum for the exchange of ideas and information about human-computer interaction (HCI).

Alan Kay (1940 – ) is one of the earliest pioneers in personal computing, overlapping-window interface, modern object-oriented programming, and the concept of the laptop computer. His quip that “The best way to predict the future is to invent it” is widely repeated. He likes to say that no one owes more to his research community than he does.

Kay was one of the founding researchers of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), where he led the group that developed the overlapping window and icon graphical user interface and the Smalltalk object-oriented language; and which participated in the development of the modern graphical networked personal computer and WYSIWYG desktop publishing.

Kay at the National Science Foundation in Arlington, VA in September 1995.
Kay talks with Wally Feurzeig (left) and Mark Guzdial (center) at a National Science Foundation event in September 1995 in Arlington, VA.

Kay is perhaps best known for his Dynabook concept – a vision of a portable device combining hardware, software, and programming tools to offer the ultimate creative suite for children of all ages. This vision, conceptualized in the 1970s, prefigured the modern laptop computer.

His interest in children and education inspired him to establish Viewpoints Research Institute, a non-profit organization dedicated to improve “powerful ideas education” for children and to advance systems research and personal computing. Throughout his career, Kay has demonstrated his commitment to transforming the computer into a dynamic personal medium supporting creative thought.

Kay’s long list of honors include the ACM Turing Award in 2003, the Kyoto Prize in 2004, the U. S. National Academy of Engineering Draper Prize (with Butler Lampson, Chuck Thacker, and Bob Taylor), ACM Software Systems Award (with Dan Ingalls and Adele Goldberg), and numerous honorary doctorates. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Royal Society of Arts, Computer History Museum, ACM, and the Hasso Plattner Institute.

Kay’s early vision of the Dynabook suggested a book sized portable computer, which was a wild idea in the days of room-sized computers, but he proved to be right.  He also contributed software technology and user interface concepts to realize this vision.  His playful style and sharp insights made his talks worth listening to, and his devotion to computers that kids could use was admirable. – Ben Shneiderman



  • M.S. (1968) and Ph.D. (1969) in computer science, University of Utah
  • B.S. in mathematics and molecular biology, University of Colorado at Boulder (1966)


  • Co-Founder and President, Viewpoints Research Institute (2001 – Present)
  • Advisory Board Member, TTI/Vanguard (Present)
  • Adjunct Professor, University of California, Los Angeles (Present)
  • Fellow, Hewlett-Packard Company (2002 – 2005)
  • Fellow, Walt Disney Company (1996 – 2001)
  • Fellow, Apple Computer, Inc. (1983)
  • Chief Scientist, Atari (1983)
  • Xerox Corporation’s Palo Alto Research Center (1972)



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