Alan Kay

Alan Kay was born in Springfield, Massachusetts, in 1940. He received a B.S. in mathematics and molecular biology from the University of Colorado at Boulder (1966) and an M.S. (1968) and Ph.D. (1969) from the University of Utah in computer science. After the air force, Kay went back to the University of Colorado.


In 1966, he earned an undergraduate degree in mathematics and molecular biology from the University of Colorado. He also worked as a professional jazz guitarist. He then went to the University of Utah where he was awarded MS in Electrical Engineering and, in 1969, a Ph.D. in Computer Science.


Much computer science research there was financed by the Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), and Kay was one of the many graduate students who attended ARPA-sponsored conferences and contributed to ARPA research and projects such as time-sharing and the ARPAnet, the forerunner of the Internet.


While working on FLEX, Kay witnessed Douglas Engelbart’s demonstration of interactive computing designed to support collaborative work groups. Engelbart’s vision influenced Kay to adopt graphical interfaces, hypertext, and the mouse.


Other influences were JOSS, a system that supported 12 personal workstations; GRAIL, a project designed to support human-computer communication through modeless computing; Understanding Media, a book written by Marshall McLuhan that describes the internalization of media; Logo, a project designed to help children learn through computers; and flat panel screen displays.

Kay is best known for the idea of personal computing, the concept of the laptop computer, and the inventions of the now ubiquitous overlapping-window interface and modern object-oriented programming.


His deep interest in children was the catalyst for these ideas, and it continues to inspire him. Kay was one of the founders of the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC), in Palo Alto, California, where he led one of the groups that developed ideas into modern workstations (and the forerunner of the Macintosh), the Smalltalk computer language, the overlapping-window interface, desktop publishing, the Ethernet, laser printing, and network “client servers.” His “Dynabook” concept prefigured the modern laptop computer by several decades.

Alan Kay married Bonnie Lynn MacBird in 1983. She is an actress, playwright, screenwriter and producer known for co-writing the science fiction film ‘Tron’ and has two Emmys for production to her credit. He left Xerox in 1983 and became a fellow at Apple Computer, Inc. (now Apple Inc.), in 1984. His design of a graphical user interface for operating systems (OS) was used in Apple’s Mac OS and later in Microsoft Corporation’s Windows OS.


Dr. Kay has received numerous honors, including the ACM Software Systems Award, the ACM Outstanding Educator Award, the J-D Warnier Prix D’Informatique and the NEC 2001 C&C Prize.


He has been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Arts, and the Computer Museum History Center.


He is a recipient of the ZeroOne Award from the University of Berlin, and recently received an honorary doctorate degree from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH). He was inducted into the Utah Information Technology Association (UITA) as a “Hall of Fame Member, November 2003.