Alan C. Kay, Personal Computing Pioneer and UCLA Computer Scientist, Wins Kyoto Prize
Alan C. Kay, an adjunct professor of computer science at UCLA whose work in the 1960s and 1970s opened the door for the personal computing revolution, has been awarded the 2004 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology. It is Kay's third major scientific award this year.
The Kyoto Prize is an international award given by the Inamori Foundation to people who have contributed significantly to the scientific, cultural and spiritual betterment of mankind. Now in its 20th year, the Kyoto Prize is considered one of the world's leading awards for lifetime achievement. Kay was chosen for "creating the concept of personal computing and contributing to its realization."
The prize carries a cash gift of 50 million yen (approximately $450,000), a 20-karat gold medal and a diploma. Awards are given annually for advanced technology, basic sciences and arts, and philosophy.
Kay joined the computer science department in the UCLA Henry Samueli School of Engineering and Applied Science in 2002. There, he teaches a Transpacific Interactive Distance Education (TIDE) course on user-interfaces and end-user scripting as learning environments for children. Using technology developed by UCLA's Center for Digital Innovation, TIDE courses are taught simultaneously at UCLA and Kyoto University in Japan.
"Dr. Kay's tremendous contributions to the field of computing and education deserve this exceptional acclaim," said Milos Ercegovac, professor and chair of UCLA's computer science department. "It has been truly inspiring for our faculty and students to have such a renowned computer scientist in our midst."
Earlier this month, Kay received the 2003 Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery for his breakthrough concepts on personal computing and for leading the team that invented Smalltalk, the first complete dynamic object-oriented programming language. The Turing Award, considered the "Nobel Prize of Computing," carries a $100,000 prize, with funding provided by Intel Corp.
In February, Kay won the National Academy of Engineering's 2004 Charles Stark Draper Prize along with three colleagues for their 1970s work at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center. The team, credited with creating the first practical networked personal computer, included Kay, Robert W. Taylor, Butler W. Lampson and Charles P. Thacker. The prize, given to an engineer whose accomplishment has significantly impacted society, included a $500,000 cash award.
Kay was a researcher at Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center in 1971 when he voiced his now-famous dictum; "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."
While at Xerox in the early 1970s, Kay led efforts to develop perhaps the most significant leap in human-computer interactivity, the graphical user interface (GUI). Kay designed the GUI to use icons as graphical representations of computing functions — the folders, menus and overlapping windows — based on his research into the processes of learning and creativity. Kay's team designed a computer that incorporated the GUI and a three-button mouse, and named it Alto.
Kay's abiding interest in children and education led Kay to use Smalltalk as a tool for teaching computing concepts at the elementary level. Kay found that children learned better if touch, images and symbols are combined with plain text. Today, he is president of Viewpoints Research Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to children and learning that he founded in 2001.
As a student at the University of Utah, Kay invented dynamic object-oriented programming, and was a member of the university research team that developed continuous tone 3-D graphics for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA). Kay also is the co-designer of the FLEX Machine, an early desktop computer with graphical user interface and object‑oriented operating system, and the creator of the Dynabook, a laptop personal computer.
While participating in several design committees for the fledgling ARPANET project, Kay came to know UCLA computer science professor Leonard Kleinrock, who created the basic principles of packet switching, the technology underpinning the Internet and still used today.
"Alan's contributions to personal computing have been revolutionary and continue to have an impact today," Kleinrock said. "The recognition he has received these past few months shows how influential his insights have turned out to be."
Kay has undergraduate degrees in mathematics and biology with minor concentrations in English and anthropology from the University of Colorado. He has an M.S. and Ph.D. in computer science, both with distinction, from the University of Utah, and an Honorary Doctorate from the Kungl Tekniska Hoegskolan in Stockholm.
The prize ceremony will be held Nov. 10 in Kyoto, Japan. In addition to Kay, two other award recipients will be honored. Jurgen Habermas, a professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of Frankfurt, will receive the prize in arts and philosophy. Alfred George Knudsen Jr., an adjunct professor of pediatrics and human genetics at the University of Pennsylvania's medical school, will receive the prize in basic science.
The Inamori Foundation was founded in 1984 by Kazuo Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera Corp.