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PC Pioneer Alan Kay Wins Kyoto Prize

By Jay Lyman
Jun 11, 2004 2:37 PM PT

Among the first to realize the potential of a computer that could be used by individuals and learning students, Alan Kay has been awarded the 2004 Kyoto Prize for his life's work at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and elsewhere, which laid the groundwork for today's PC.

PC Pioneer Alan Kay Wins Kyoto Prize

As the winner of the 20th annual award, Kay is being recognized for his work at PARC in the 1960s and 1970s, as well as his ongoing dedication to promoting computing as a key learning tool and resource for children.

The Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology, which comes with a cash gift of about US$450,000, a gold medal and diploma, will be presented to Kay, a current HP Senior Fellow, at a November 10th ceremony in Kyoto, Japan.

Computers for People

Kay is credited with envisioning "a computer to support the intellectual endeavors of individuals," which was the basis for his and others research and development work in the late 1960s. His later concept of the "Dynabook" machine closely resembled today's hottest PC market of notebook computers that connect wirelessly to networks.

"The idea represented a complete paradigm shift in what a computer was and how it could be used," said a statement by the Inamori Foundation, which presents the Kyoto Prize.

Kay carried on the idea with other researchers in the Alto computer, which resembles today's desktop PC and was developed at PARC. The machine was the first to use bitmaps to display detailed graphics, allowing the computer to be operated visually and is widely viewed as the basis for today's graphical user interface (GUI).

Big Feats With Smalltalk

Kay, who also is credited for combining the Alto computer and Ethernet capabilities to create a local area network (LAN), was an important figure in software development. He developed the object-oriented programming environment Smalltalk and is widely credited as one of the first developers to push the idea of object-oriented programming.

That programming success had an impact on other computer languages, including C++ and Java, and also served as a key blueprint for general methodology in creating complex information systems.

Kay also kept working on Smalltalk more recently in the 1990s as he created Squeak, an R&D solution used around the world.

On a Roll

The Kyoto Prize marks the third major recognition for Kay, who, with former PARC colleagues Butler Lampson, Robert Taylor and Charles Thacker, shared the National Academy of Engineering's 2004 Charles Stark Draper Prize for development of the networked personal computer in February.

Earlier this month, Kay received the Association of Computing Machinery's 2003 Turing Award for leading the team that invented Smalltalk.

"When [I learned] that the four of us had been awarded this year's Draper Prize, I was floored because even the possibility was not in my mind," Kay told TechNewsWorld of the Draper Prize. "Given the amazing feats of engineering in the 20th Century, the previous laureates, and that this is just the 10th awarding of the prize, it seems unbelievable to have been chosen."

For Past and Future

The Kyoto Prize, presented by the Inamori Foundation that is named for Kyocera founder and chairman Kazuo Inamori, is awarded for lifetime achievement and societal contribution.

Inamori Foundation spokesperson Jay Scovie told TechNewsWorld that Kay was being awarded for the potential of his "lifetime of selfless work" as well as what it has achieved already.

"The prize is often given for work that's done, but what people don't see is it's given for accomplishments that will leave a legacy," Scovie said. "Dr. Kay has been exemplary in living out these principles and his work is bound to have a prolonged, positive influence on society."


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How do you feel about flying on a pilotless plane?
No way -- if there's a screw-up, you can't just jump out.
I'd do it -- flights are pretty much entirely automated anyway.
I'm skeptical but open minded, especially if fares would be much less.
I would try it if there were *someone* on board to take over in a pinch.
It's the wave of the future -- I'm resigned to it.