Alan Kay at Xerox PARC (1993)

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good afternoon this is a forum sponsored
by the Information Center here at Parc and we are very happy to have Allen K as
as a guest that we know very well next
week we will have Randall Davies from MIT speaking on intellectual property
Allen has asked me to keep at the introductions brief and I promise it
will be under three minutes or start counting it it is not often that a
professional musician and composer is invited to give a forum at park Allen
play several instruments and in particular the guitar he plays rock and
roll and jazz although I know him mostly for his Baroque compositions we all have
cards cluttering our wallets and these are professional societies but Allen has
only one membership in the International Society of organ builders of course
Allen has also another avocation and has been called the father of personal
computing but he denies it this is not
something that this is something that we will discuss someday he's certainly the father of the Dinah
book and then evangelist for the computer revolution that followed among
his many contributions our small talk which ushered the object oriented
language revolution also and he also pioneered icons I remember working with
him on the text of Winnie the Pooh and
the Winnie the Pooh is a matter of fact was one of Alan's nicknames in the olden
days you might be surprised to learn
that Allen was in the Air Force and I imagine the Air Force was never the same
after that but it was then that he became a programmer and went from music
math and molecular biology to computers his PhD was awarded at the University of
Utah with a dessert on the reactive engine which we have he
came to park from Stanford University the artificial intelligence department
subsequently went to Atari as chief scientist is now an Apple fellow
residing with a learning concepts group in Los Angeles it will be nice hearing
directly from Alan because he's so often quoted and misquoted I have an
environmental quote here and I don't know whether it's authentic some people
worried that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior
but then anyone in his right mind should have an inferiority complex when he
looks at the flower well this is typical and if I said that sentence I can't
remember what it means I guess the thing
I noticed most coming to park and seeing some people haven't seen for a long time is that most of us have our hair shorter
lots of us cut it and I think Danny Bob Roe just let nature take its course
well I thought when I got invited to give a forum at park sometime this year
one of the dates was this date and it just happened to be very close to the
25th anniversary of thinking up the Dynabook idea so I thought it'd be
interesting to come to this place and
take a look not so much at the past I'm going to try and zip through the pass
just to give you some context but to talk about the place of computing in
education and kind of what what has happened and what hasn't happened over
the last 25 years I think for many of us
just the sheer length of time we've been working on these projects is staggering
when you think about it and I remember a conversation that Danny and I had I don't know it must have been
almost 25 years ago when I pointed out
to him he was still working on artificial intelligence and problem
understanding and solving systems and he
says well that is the dues that we have to pay for having so much fun in computer scientists science we are
doomed to work on our theses for the rest of our lives and now I know what he
meant I think one of the toughest things
may be in any area but certainly in computer science is the bug of early
good results because simple things have
been somewhat simple to do on computers and they were done well and done early
and then getting the last what seems to be the last five or ten percent seems to
take another 25 or 30 years and maybe it's worse than that so one of the
things that I think is characteristic in my mind about the 60s is how many
wonderful ideas were thought up in the 60s in rather complete forms and how
many brave starts were made at these wonderful ideas and then not a lot has
happened since then except for quantitative
things it's really quite remarkable to me that the software in general if
anything is worse than it was it's being generally worked on by people who aren't
as skilled as they were a long time ago and that really dismayed me until I
looked out the window of a plane once and I looked down and I was flying into
Los Angeles and I realized that Los Angeles was almost entirely innocent of
any architects like most American cities
it was built and designed by carpenters right they just went out there and do it
and essentially what what has happened in software is the carpenters have taken
over and the reason they can take over is because the quantitative changes in
memory have allowed them to do what
Seymour Papert calls bricolage which is just tack on a little here and a little
there and a little there and prop it up here and and so forth and so what I
would like to do is claim that some of
these old aspirations are still really
important Neil postman has said that a
technology is always an idea masquerading as machinery so we tend to
get involved in the machinery but often we miss what the idea is sometimes the
ideas can be deadly for instance the idea of television is a deadly one lying
underneath all of that machinery is a kind of a drug and it's starting to make
its effect felt more and more I believe that parents should treat it as a loaded
gun cabinet if they have it at all but
because the idea is always underneath some more innocent machinery there's
this tendency to treat it for what it seems to be doing now rather than the
underlying areas if we look at the computer as an idea disguised as a piece
of machinery then I think that the idea of a computer is a meta idea I think the
thing that is most exciting to most of us and this again
was first revealed in the strongest way in a way that was really interesting in
the 60s of course Turing talked about it in the 30s but he talked about it in a
somewhat an interesting way as Turing machines were interesting and about
proving things about certain kinds of computations but it was hard to build anything interesting out of them it
really wasn't to Lisp appeared that you had a universal machine that had
acceleration or slope where you could go from something very simple that was a
meta thing to something really interesting in just a few steps okay and
that I think it's a very I'm going to talk about that a little bit more so most of the the actual idea of computer
are meta things meta ideas meta media it's content is all media meta
descriptions metal languages meta systems all of those things are
extremely difficult if you look out in the commercial world for anybody who's
using computers out there to see them at all what they see are things that are
almost toasters toaster called Microsoft Word and a toaster called Excel but they
don't see the meta ideas under there because they've been covered up in part
and because in part the idea of meta idea is not something that is in the the
general population Bertrand Russell said something nice about language he said
that language serves not only to express thought but to make possible thoughts
which could not exist without it and to me the reason to be interested about
computers and education is this particular idea it's not all the things
that you can do as computers about all the things that are already around it's that each one of these ideas each
one of these technologies has an imperative of its own there was an imperative about reading
and writing that was different than learning about your civilization from
looking at stained glass windows the fact that reading and writing is hard to
learn has been pointed out quite a bit the state of Hawaii has decided to do
something about that and that is to fix it so that people who are illiterate in
the state of Hawaii never have to worry about learning to read or write they've
developed now multi Media system for benefits that is all done in terms of pictures so there is no
they removed the last remaining mo
nation for learning how to read so now they can get their their benefits
without having to out having to do that so and that would be fine if you could
change information from one medium for
another without changing the ideas but in fact it doesn't work just to give you
an example in January 1776 Thomas Paine
wrote that he wrote it about six weeks
before a 50-page tract called common
sense and it was a written fairly
beautifully but it was a long argument a 50-page argument about why monarchies
are not the best way to do things and suggesting some possible ways of doing
things that might be better in the 13 colonies that was over the next six
months from January to June about 600,000 copies of that pamphlet were
published that is quite surprising when you realize that they're only 1.5
million colonists there are only six
million Brits back then they 1.5 million colonists so almost every family got a
copy of this pamphlet and many of them a rather large percentage of them could
read and follow this argument most historians believe that if it were not
for common sense publication that the
Declaration of Independence was followed in July and the subsequent history that
followed thereafter would not have happened in the way it did now if you
were to try and do that today you would
have to publish over a hundred million copies of common sense and the
percentage of Americans particularly according to the New York Times a couple
of weeks ago able to follow that argument is much less fact less than 50
percent according to the latest
examples so it's almost intractable to try and do that but you say well we have
television let's put common sense on television and
that will work because that's our mass meeting today no television is about
personality it's about disconnected but compelling
emotion it's about a lot of things but what it isn't about our fifty page
arguments our civilization was built on fifty page and longer arguments
television can't carry them right and so
when you let one medium substitute for another you now are setting up biases as
to what kinds of discourse are likely to be more carried and what kinds of
discourse and what kinds of modes of thought so the thing I got interested in
a long time ago from reading McLuhan was
trying to understand what kinds of discourse computing might carry what is
its idea lurking down there underneath all of the chameleon-like things that it
can do and I'm not sure I I have a definitive answer for it but what I'm
going to do here is try and rush through the historical stuff just to give you a
little bit of context I'm not sure how many people know which story and then
try and show you some of the things that have been done with children over the
years and try and talk about what the strengths and weaknesses and what some
of the barriers are so I'll try starting here I think the context that we're all
involved in actually started with this idea it's called Memex was written in
the Atlantic Monthly in 1945 and this is
the Life magazine version of it in September of 1945 where they actually
did some sketches so Bush to his President Roosevelt science advisor the
guy who said okay on the atomic bomb he was a professor at MIT said sometime in
the near future we'll be able to have in our homes a small desk size device which
he called mimics that we'll have somewhere between five thousand and 10,000 volumes about the
size of a small town library held in optical storage malleable optical
storage because you can put in your own information multiple screens pointing
devices even predicted that there would
be a profession of people who would make
cross connections through all of this information because of course the cross
connections are what makes it interesting these people would be called path finders okay so that was Bush's
vision and quite a number of people saw
it at various times Engelbart saw it that year
Lickliter saw it a little bit later I happened to see it in the 50s when I was
a teenager this is something that people had in their minds as computers are
being invented then in 1962
here's Ivan Sutherland with sketchpad and I usually I have admitted showing
some movies of these things just to save time that's marvelous if you have a
movie here at Parc of sketchpad you should definitely look at it the reason
is is that it is hard to find a system today that can do what sketchpad did
back in 1962 it was truly remarkable not
only was it the real invention of computer graphics what you see there on
the screen is a bridge that he's drawn and it didn't know about bridges and
stresses and strains beforehand but by putting constraints which are also
represented iconically on those drawings
it is calculating the put in putting a load hanging from the bridge at his
dynamic Eclat calculating what the stresses and strains on that bridge is
so this is a what you might call a meta simulator is the first non procedural
programming system darn close to that maybe the first problem solving system
don't you think but Danny it must must have been darn close
first object-oriented system that I know if it's all done in terms of objects and
once asked Ivan I said how could you have in one year all by yourself have
invented computer graphics done the first object-oriented programming system
and done the first non procedural programming system he says well I didn't
know it was hard and in fact he he got
into the whole thing because the display was so bad on the TX to this computer by
the way it was about slightly larger than this room that he's the single user
of about the about the power of a 512 K
Mac and the display was so bad that he
instead of turning away from it like other graduate students that had been
led to it he asked the question to all of us should ask more often he looked at
it he said what else can it do and he
says if this thing isn't good at making drawings on it what else can it do and the answer was it can simulate those
drawings so this system was the first system to have a window at the virtual
screen was actually a third of a mile on a side you could zoom continuously in
and out of it and so forth fantastic system another system done at
Lincoln labs the very same year was the my vote for the first personal computer
here's West Clark and Charlie Molnar one of the design constraints for the link
as it was called was that it be small enough so that when you're sitting down
you could look over it
so the idea was it wasn't supposed to loom over you like most computers did
and several actually almost 2,000 of
these were built in the 60s these are actually assembled as kits by biomedical
technicians and astoundingly as far as I can tell almost eight hundred of them
are still running today the reason is
that neurons have not sped up so these
are done for originally done for neurological experiments where the
technicians themselves could program them and therefore taking real time data and looking at it and the neurons have
not sped up in the last twenty five years and so a lot of these are still
being being used well I was as Julianne
mentioned I was at one of my undergraduate degrees as an under was in
molecular biology and the other one was
in mathematics and in 65 this great book was published I was already out of
school but it was one of the first strong assays of what was in the
favorite file mechanism of that time
which was the e coli bacterium and so
here's I'll sort it this is what one of
them looks like a close-up it's about
70% water and ions has about 120 million organic components looked at as an
information processing system there's about a hundred gigabytes worth of
information in there which is about say
fifty thousand two megabyte desktops the
other thing that's interesting people often even scientists and other fields
often wonder gee I wonder why chemistry works how do those molecules find each other
and the answer is is that the heat
agitation in these things is remarkable so if you take if you take atoms being
about the size of tennis balls medium-sized protein is about the size
of a Volkswagen then those Volkswagens size things move their own lengths in
two nanoseconds okay that's over a
million miles an hour in scale miles an hour in other words the thermal
agitation at this level is unbelievably
violent a violence level that we can't conceive of and that is how things
actually find each other is they're actually being smashed about incredibly
so a lot of a lot of pattern matching is
going on in here typical pattern matching is on the order
of about 3,000 bites matched in about
one-and-a-half microseconds that's a typical protein finding an enzyme okay
so stuff is happening down here so if you think of it in terms of computer
terms it's quite remarkable the other thing that's interesting I shouldn't
even take the time here but it's fascinating to realize that the
viscosity of water at this size is about that of asphalt
right so the deceleration on a bacterium when it quits waving its tail is a
million GS in other words it stops and
then the fun thing is that a bacterium is about one 500th of a typical
mammalian cell and we have about 10
trillion of them in our bodies right so
this is serious stuff there's nothing remotely like that that we do in
computing I believe that every computer scientists to be should learn about
molecular biology just to have a sense of scale of where we are in the great
game of building complicated things we're nowhere there's nothing to be
proud about that we've done so far the
other thing that's interesting is 50 cell divisions is enough to grow a baby
all right you can work it out another
interesting thing is that if you take a 747 and you want to make it six inches
longer you have a problem
fact the documentation on a 747 is
larger than it is now the documentation
for us is much smaller than we are and
when we're born we get six inches longer at least ten times in our life without
ever having to be taken down for maintenance there are errors going on
all the time and their mechanisms there to fix them there's a whole process
that's there to converge the organism not into the exact individual that is
specified in the blueprints but into a cohesive individual that is near what is
specified in the in the blueprints that's just a piece of context when I
first went to graduate school almost my first encounter was with a programming
language named Simula which nobody could understand including me and but my job
as a new graduate student was to get it running on the mainframe
so we rolled the listing of this machine
code down the hallway about 80 feet and we crawled on it on our hands and knees
and this is something that's very difficult to do with computer displays today but it was very good cuz another
graduate student was about 40 feet down the hall looking at stuff and I was down
there and we were calling back and forth to each other and we finally discovered
what this thing was by looking to see how it allocated storage which was very
different than the way alcohol did and I realized that what similar was was in a
sort of an alcohol based language that dealt with structures that were like
that that sketchpad used and something
about seeing it again it got me thinking and that was this idea that you can make
a dog house out of anything and computers were very small back in the
60s still are if you compare them to the bacterium and it doesn't much matter
what kind of design you use when you're making a doghouse out of wood maybe if
we make it out of toothpicks or matchsticks it matters but the the strength of the materials
just dominates the design so it doesn't actually matter and so you have this
very simple mechanistic thing just like people are taught today they're taught algorithms as their first course in
computing and the reason was historically is that's all you could run
on the damn things long ago they were just IO engines and you cranked on them
and there are simple numerical converging algorithms and stuff so is
this whole mechanistic notion of what programs are but when I started thinking
about complexity biological complexity or even complexity in architecture
started thinking boy you can't get even
close to any of these things a Gothic cathedral or anything without having
some much stronger design and much many more nonlinear relationships and
feedback mechanisms between all the different parts that maybe think of the
way tissues work as an old biologist and
that's when the line now Arthur Kessler has this see if I can there we go
Arthur Kessler in the act of creation has this idea about how creativity is
done that's basically that as you travel
along through the pink context you're thinking pink thoughts and if you're
extraordinarily lucky something happens
to cause you to realize that you're actually should be in the blue context and the blue context has this explosion
that reveals the very same thing you
were looking at in a completely new way and in fact he built an entire theory of
creativity on it so the
right so the humor is obvious the science I think is obvious the art art
the artistic aesthetic experience happens when you look at something it
can be even something ordinary or it can be looking at something that's
manifestly supposed to be art and all of a sudden you see some sort of
transcendent attributes to it that you
didn't see before so all three of these are the same mechanisms of course there's a tragic side as well it depends
on which side of the joke you're on so that it says oh oh no and oh in this
case I was originally thinking about
good old things like data structures alcohol blah blah blah and so the when
you're thinking about good old things that the tendency is to come up with a
better old thing that's what people did when they invented abstract data types
right and in fact the one of the inventors of Simula was one of the
promulgate errs of this he wrote a paper in I think 1970 in a book with Tony
Hoare and Dijkstra about how you could
use similar classes to simulate data so he was thinking that data was okay as an
idea and the classes were going to make data better and and some people would
argue that that that's the way it should be for me because of the biology I was
thinking the other way I was thinking what if simular were almost the new
thing not a better old thing and that led to an explosion in the other
direction of thinking boy this stuff is almost like a biological system I wonder
what it'd be like if we tried to push it further in that direction and away from
algorithms and you wind up with this transition at least in my mind from
clockwork kinds of things to biological kinds of things
and that got me thinking about what objects could actually be because once
you have that sense of them just being a system of messages nonlinear messages
because state is getting changed then you can model everything you can even go
back and model data structures if you want but the whole metaphor suggests
something much stronger than that much much stronger than the doing the old way
of things better and one of the things that suggested was that and Simula had
this to a small degree although classes and simular we're not objects but right
away it suggested that you should make classes objects to complete the model
because you got to do something that nature didn't get to do and that is you
got to share the DNA that meant you could make meta changes to the system in
an extremely powerful way and have all
the parts of the system feel that change and this other idea which is at some
point this comes from Moore's law that was first published in 1965 this is the
idea of the exponential progression of silicon at some point software is going
to have to be grown there's only so much you can do with by hand construction
before you're going to have to set up something more like a more for genetic
environment and let the system grow itself according to the constraints that
are put into it now the problem with all of this thinking is that didn't actually
lead to a very strong theory of
programming at the time it took it's a problem with this stuff is the abstract
thinking is actually rather easy to do and then translating it into something concrete is tough well while all this
was going on is about 1967 Engelbart was travelling around with his Engelbart
talk about a dedicated person he used to travel with a 16 millimeter movie
projector of his own why did he bring his own projector along because he had
had it rigged up so he could stop it and freeze-frame it why did he have it
rigged up that way because people were not least looking at cursors on the
screen he discovered if he just showed a movie of his system nobody knew what the hell
was going on we found the same thing when we are trying to demonstrate the
early stuff here at park to the Xerox executives now they're their eyes were
focused about a foot behind the the CRT because they didn't expect to see any
information on it so when Engelbart gave
his talk what he would do it at key points he'd freeze the frame and he had this pointer and he'd say point C
there's the cursor the cursor is gonna go over there and do something now he
was great he was like sort of like a Moses opening up the Red Sea biblical
prophet and my reaction to that was boy
that is really great but time-sharing is not the way to do this because you just
can't get the cycles to the user reliably enough in order to do all this
interaction so this is the first personal computer I did it's a desktop
computer for very special desks namely those made out of steel this is actually
a picture of it on its own display and
this had a number of interesting ideas it had very early version of clipping
windows had multiple windows as I say these are adapted from sketchpad and it
had everything in fact except something that would make a user feel reasonable
of sitting down to use it we tried it on professional engineers and doctors and
lawyers and they didn't like this machine very much they couldn't tell us
exactly why and then I saw a system at
Rand this back right around now that
gave me a completely different slant so let's let me show the first little video
clip here
this one has first we erase a flow arrow then move the connector out of the way
so that we may draw a box in its place recognizes a box and makes one for him
the printing in the box is being used as commentary only in this case the box is
slightly too large so he may change its size that's where modern-day window
control came from literally then draw a flow from the connector to the box
attach a decision element to the box and draw a flow from it to scan we then
erased the flow arrows attached to the process post new area and move the box
to a new position this allows us to draw
a new box and that had a big effect on
me because angle BART system felt like
you are doing dangerous experiments and radioactive chemistry so there's
something behind this concrete wall over there that you were sort of fishing at with the mouse this system felt like
you're just sinking your hands right through the glass of the display and directly touching the structures in
there to me it felt intimate you might have noticed it works slightly better
than most hand character recognizers you might have tried
you know the most engineers today are
doing what I call inverse vandalism you
know they're building things because they can and they're doing it in order
to get ego satisfaction out of it not a single person that I know of it
that has done Han character algorithms has bothered to look at how these guys
did this 25 years ago it's wonderful
it's simple it suggests a user interface for using it really fantastic so using
that system gave me a whole different slant on what it should feel like to use
a computer that summer I had seen the
first flat panel display a little one-inch square of glass with some neon
lights glowing in at the first plasma panel and right around now 25 years ago
I visited Seymour Papert for the first time and so has worked with kids now the
way we thought about personal computing back then was much more as an analogy
between IBM as the railroads and us as Henry Ford now there was we thought of
railroads as being huge institutional things somebody else was deciding where
you could go and when you could go and what people needed was personal vehicles like the automobile but kids don't drive
cars and when I saw this it it started
its setup I couldn't think of the vehicle metaphor anymore Danny Barbour
oh by the way he had something to do with designing logo as well Wally fertig
and you know what is a computer that is this and this this sort of screwed up
thing keynes i started thinking well one of the things that we encourage children
to use almost from birth is media and a book is the thing that contains marks
that represent our idea and maybe what if you think about a computer a book
that can read and write itself so that
resulted in this cardboard model that i made back then
and actually it's hollow because I used
to fill it up with BB pellets to see how heavy you could make it before somebody
didn't want to carry it anymore the answer by the way it was about two
pounds now there is 0.5 herniation the block is not portability Portability
means you can carry something else too now right so there's this image of could
somebody would somebody could this thing be so casual that you'd be willing to
put your grocery list on it carry it into a supermarket and out with two bags
of groceries right in other words could you use it as a mundane thing think
about computers today they're almost never used for mundane purposes you have
to turn them on you have to do something to get them going your watches don't
have an on/off switch all right so the stuff that is actually intimate is
already going it's already continuously going okay so this became a very strong
image and by calculating out on Moore's Law we could see that's the first time
that this would be possible we'll be sometime in the late 70s or early 80s
which was a very long time off more than
10 years which is an infinity to people
and this is Moore's law and this is what actually the read is what actually happened so he actually did better than
five doublings per decade did about six but these two design images led to a way
of thinking about computing as belief
systems so three belief systems an institutional belief system a personal belief system
in an intimate belief system and these things reminded me of like Ptolemaic
astronomy Copernican astronomy and relativistic astronomy we use the same
word like computer or orbit is used in
each of the paradigms but they mean completely different things so I started wondering what the rules might be in
each each one of these things this is a game that that you can play as well
and if you artificially separate them out some insights start appearing one of
the ones that occurred to me when I look at it this way is that this one compared
to this one reminded me very much of manuscript books and the printed book
how many people here think they have at least 392 books in their house right why
did I say that number because that's how many books there were in the Vatican Library and the Year 1400 AD how do they
know it was 392 because you can count 392 things quite accurately nobody knows
how many books there are in the Library of Congress they estimate it by cubic volume okay and if you go into a metal
library there's one in Florence what you
see are not shelves there are no shelves because most of these libraries only had
about a hundred books each book had its own reading table and the books were
chained to the reading table so the first time you see one of these things
at least to my eye when I saw it looked exactly like a time-sharing bullpen
there's a room full of terminals full of
things that only an institution could afford to own now why did this remind me
of that and that's because this looks like like a time-sharing terminal right
same as the Gutenberg Bible look like a manuscript Bible why because it didn't
look they didn't know what a book should look like so when they did the Gutenberg
Bible they imitated this culture the manuscript culture over here the fonts
were 36 points so forth books were big thick and heavy same thing over here
where we don't know what a computer should look like so we make it look like a time-sharing caramel and that reminded
me of something really important was around 1495 a guy by the name of Aldous
whose last name was not pagemaker
but it could have been his last name was
Manutius Aldus Manutius set up a press
in Venice and his first offering was called the portable library from the
Aldean press the portable library the books were this size and they were that
size because that's the size that saddlebags were in Venice in 1495 so if
you want to know how big a saddlebag was back 500 years ago that's how big just
the size that books are today why because Elvis had realized something
important that books could now be lost and because they could be lost they were
no longer priceless you could actually take them with you and therefore you have to make them small and Aldous
became one of the first type designers because people had not printed in types
that were as small as 12 points so a lot of the typefaces that we use today
including italic were designed by eldest for this stuff and that was really
interesting because it made me think of this phase here as of passing fad right
in other words the computers that we have in our office now by and large are
not the stable phase of this the stable
phase is when you get them out that the driving factor here is integrated
circuits and the driving factor here is pervasive networking and of course that
was part of what part of the ARPA dream people in the late 60s including myself
we're already riding around in the Bay Area here in ARPA had this van I was
operated out of SR I they had a model 33 teletype and did you ever use that Danny
I don't know you could ride around in this van up and down the 101 freeway
communicating with a time-sharing computer back at SSRI
so this is part of actually was part of Larry Roberts dream to have packet radio
be part of the whole ARPANET experience
and it was actually a project in the 70s to to do just that
so Justin just an aside here this is why
technical people should learn more than technology this technology is the pink
area if you only know technology you only think technological thoughts and
there's no little blue areas that your thoughts can pop up into every once in a
while and get some of these ideas from
now of course there are other ideas about the Dynabook one of the things
that Ivan Sutherland pointed out because he was at Utah while I was there working
on the helmet was that it should be actually easier to make small little
liquid crystal displays than large ones because of the contamination thing and
so that he thought that actually you could be you could make a head mounted
display before you could make a notebook and of course the nice thing on this is
you get a virtual display even if you don't do the 3d thing very good for
using on airplanes it's private you have a bigger panorama and and so forth and
Nicholas Negroponte II had an even more outrageous thing his idea was that the
world was going to be so networked up it was going to be his networked as the power plugs in the wall and therefore
all you had to do is wear transponders and your whole user interface would follow you as you walk from from room to
room and he one of his phrases back then
he says well no it's the future when my left cufflink communicates with my right cuff link through satellite
now it's interesting to calculate when this will be possible it's not that far
off right we're not that far off for being able to punch up to low-flying
satellites with a third or a half of a watt and the electronics is certainly
gonna get small enough those frightening when these predictions actually seem
like they're gonna work out now one of the things that had been holding me back
from thinking about how up should go is
I hadn't learned about Lisp because we were out in the hinterlands there at
Utah and we're illiterate but I met
Marvin Minsky one day and he was such a character that I decided I'd read his book and in the middle of this book is a
whole description of actually learning Lisp the hard way I would call it
because it was the way he taught it was by using Gerda lies numbers as but
fortunately my other major in college was mathematics so I I probably learned it easier this route than any other
route that got me to look at this wonderful book this book I own probably
30 or 40 copies because every time I feel in the need of an idea I go out and
buy a copy of this book and put it under my pillow god knows what will happen to
me if they quit printing this book but
in fact what's in here as I think most of the people in the room know is what I
would call Maxwell's equations for computers one of the great intellectual
achievements I think in our field not to
make a universal machine because that had been done before but to make one that really had jets on it the thing
that's wonderful about this is not only is it compact but it's powerful really powerful I'm so lucky that I saw this
second because this was so powerful it
held lists people back from OOP for years right because list was so
wonderful already that they didn't want to hear about OOP for a while but the
other thing is that list was so wonderful it was able to absorb group when they finally saw it okay when I ran
into a computer person who calls himself a computer scientist who doesn't understand this now
everybody in the probably not everybody in the room has gone through this thing
but I know that every person in this room that has gone through the the couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to
understand this has never forgotten when
they have done it right it's just one of those one of those things like that
you're not the same person afterwards I mean you realize holy smokes this stuff
is actually easy this is I don't have to write yards of code to get one of these
things I just have to make it come back on itself very quickly and it will do it
for me so then so that was the sort of
the theoretic apart then coming to Park the whole point at Park especially
spurred by Butler Lampson Butler was sick and tired of all of our shenanigans
including his own in the 60s so one of
the things he did early on at Parc is he got us all to agree that we've never do a system that wasn't engineered for 100
users was in the first months of Parc
and so I think a lot of the successes at Parc actually came because of an extreme
conservatism Park has always been thought of as being the wildest place
but in fact the 60s were far while dur everything was hooked together with
baling wire and bubble gum and barely worked even for the demonstrator and
Butler tried to put some engineering into the thing and so the whole idea was let's when we do something let's make
sure the hundred people if it's a time-sharing system let's get a hundred
people on it if it's a programming language let's document it so a hundred
people can use it if it's a personal computer let's build a hundred of them so there's this scale on all of these
projects here let's run a hundred people at least on the ethernet so this is the
the first actual proposal for what later became the alto which was called many
connaissez in 1971 I'm basically a minimalist so I wanted something really
small and simple something that was like a link but I had enough power to do
graphics and had pointing devices and of
course I was pretty dim the other thing is what do we do with it
well what I wanted to do is something like what similar papper it was doing
but to try and extend it into the larger sphere of having the kids understand
those special things that the computer helps them learn best so reading
Bruner's book started thinking about multiple mentality started thinking about icons one of Bruner's mentalities
that he liked to work about is the iconic mentality this is a an early
version of an iconic bubble sort from back then the thick lines are the afters
the thin lines are the links at time t
another example of one of those prose
upside down doesn't matter see that's what's nice about iconic so looks almost
the same and then we built this great
machine which is affectionately called the old character generator could do
almost anything that a CRT could do first started designing fonts so here's
an early thing from early 1972 and then we realized oh yeah we should be able to
paint into this thing so the kids can sketch it's the first painting stuff
some dynamic animation space war is the
thing you always do when you don't know what else to do and it also has a very nice
object-oriented rendering in about a half a page and also some portraits and
this is an executive of Xerox I'm sure you still have Xerox executives that
kind of visit you this guy I was showing him how the painting stuff works so I
did I used to be a portrait painter when I was a teenager so I did a portrait of
him now I was showing him the stuff and I said at the end of it you know what's
really great about this stuff is it only has a 20% chance of success we're taking
risk just like you asked us to and he looked me right square in the eye and he
said boy that's great but just make sure it works
I used to think that was peculiar to
Xerox executives but I've discovered to having worked for several other companies since then that it is
basically a property of specious executive have the faintest idea of what
it's about now is it worked as it turned
out doing doing small talk was quite easy because we had the list way of
doing it so it only took me a couple of weeks to sit down and write the first small talk evaluator then we had Dan
Ingalls whose job was to be smarter than
me and make it all really work and his
favorite line was you just do it and it's done and that's what he did and and
so we had it almost right away very similar by the way to the Steve Russell
McCarthy pair up for Lisp the alto is
easy because we had a couple of other geniuses yeah Chuck Thacker that's what
he asked me in in 72 September 72 and I
did have some so he said well like I'd like to build your little machine I said
okay so I told him all of the stuff that we'd done he went away and built it
didn't actually come out little but it came out great and then the prime kibitzer of all at
Park was Butler whose favorite line was life is complex and he sometimes managed
to simplify it and sometimes he managed to keep it complex
the Altos first picture was this cookie monster that had been drawn with a
painting system and so all the easy stuff had been done and now we had to
start thinking about the hard stuff which was how are people going to communicate with this system what does
the user interface going to be like and we knew that one way of extension
extending humans was through tools manipulating things another way of
extending him was through agents I thought agents were too hard danny was working on agents and
Warren had worked on agents and Terry Winograd is working on agents and these
guys were a lot smarter than I was but I couldn't see actually how to do it right
then so I just said well I'll do tools and at some point along the line we'll
we'll join forces and back to this these
three paradigms the question here I think the way to do this stuff is
instead of asking what the computer can do for you ask what unbelievable problem
is this new thing going to bring for you this new benefit and it seemed to me
that the problem was that on an institutional computer where you only
had a few thousand people perhaps running an airlines reservation system
you could train everybody but there were going to be a factor of a thousand more
there were going to be millions of users here and you can't train millions of
people very easily and so it seemed that the job of this user interface had to be
a learning environment had to be a learning environment and we didn't quite
know what this was going to be over here except it's driving force was going to
be the network was going to be like a phone so they'd probably be another
factor of a thousand maybe billions of users over here and the only thing we
could think of back then is that the user interface over here was going to have to learn from the user this of
course is something that McCarthy had talked about in the late 50s when he wrote a paper called the advice taker so
we decided to concentrate on the middle area and that got us into this really
messy area called how the mind works
well Bruner had three mentalities in one
way of summing them up his language is convincing somebody seeing something is
believing it and touching it as reality and so you get a friendlier it gets
friendlier as you go to the left we knew that language didn't actually
say what it meant but it was more like pointing to something in your thought
clouds and you could only communicate with other people if they had similar
things in their thought clouds because what you do when you write an ass is trying to make a thought cloud that
you're then going to talk about the real thing with and the problem with user
interface on computers is they don't have thought clouds where they're
thought clouds are almost vacant so we decided well maybe what we should do is
put the thought cloud that it does have on the screen that way the human at
least will know what the computer is willing to talk about then we realized
we also had to think about this other direction going from kinesthetic to iconic up to
symbology for the very reason that I
mentioned about the Tom Paine's Common
Sense television can't carry all of the arguments that you want and so what you
want to have is some progression up towards a more some symbolic way of
doing things so you start off with concrete and wind up with something more
symbolic and so that seemed like a match
up to the mouse to the icon stuff that
we were fooling around with and small talk then there is a there is a question
of what you might call mood we got this
from Tim Galway of the inner game of tennis
these diagrams are from a later book called beyond boredom and anxiety by a
psychologist by the name of Mike's isn't the high it's an a Mike you can't miss
it it starts with a C and it's about 20 letters long and his first name is Mike
herm a hi and he pointed out that if you
balanced up challenge to skill you get
this condition called flow where you're feeling very good and you're very focused but if the skill is greater than
the amount of challenge you start getting bored and if the challenge is greater than the skill you start getting
anxious and so people in most tasks in
life are not in this flow area where
they're learning and thinking and so we
started thinking about well how can you widen this flow arrow so how can you make a person
flow in an area where they would
normally be anxious where the challenge is higher than their skill and we
decided way to do that is by increasing safety now war entitlement had already
been doing that by putting in undo into inter lisp undo as a way that that
allows you to perform some of the most amazing experiments in inter lisp and
realize that you could crawl your way back out if the whole house of cards
threatened to come down that seemed like a very important idea and then the other
one is how can you deal with situations where the skill is in excess of the the
challenge and there what you do is you create an increase in the aesthetic
interest of what you're doing this is like cooks like to chop vegetables they
get an aesthetic pleasure out of it even though they have plenty of skill for
doing it so putting all those things
together this is what the interface looked like around 1975 using these
ideas of overlapping windows and icons and and so forth there was the best that
we could do with small talk underlying it and then we took this stuff out and
started working with kids and I'd like to show you a few of the things that
were done with kids and then open it up to discussion so we could show the next
video please
so here's what it looked like back in the basement actually across the across
the way which is where we had our lab not in this building these are the
earliest Altos here's a Dell Goldberg if
you as she looked back then here's how we
taught the kids say Joe is a box get a
box in the screen Joe grow 50 Joe grow -
50 so we're talking to this object Joe
turned 30
now we make another box called Jill now
we can send messages to Jill independently so I'll turn Jill a
different angle and now we'll make a
little movie where we animate them in parallel giving them different messages
so we've got the kids to play with these quite a bit here's one where it's
expanding and turning at the same time and then we got them to try and guess what Jim Jill's descriptions might look
like from the basis of the experiments that they were making and usually the
kids got pretty close
here's some of the earliest kids we'd actually I think in this class we'd
gotten the things that protected the kids from the high voltage on the CRT
now here's an interesting program this is the first real tool done by a child
so this isn't this is I didn't do that
this is a drawing application so that
this child designed this application of making menus of different shapes so
she's making a tree with different shapes so this is about maybe half a
page 3/4 of a page of small talk 72 code now she's gonna pick up this came out
rather naturally from these experiments because each one of these things is actually one of those boxes but with
different costumes and listening to different messages
this is next year Marion is now 13 and
she's teaching a bunch of 12 roles what she learned a year before and here's one
of the things that a kid in her class did this is amorous if it this is a bit
like Mack draw so there's a menu now
down there of things just changed the color now we picked to grow there's the
color palette at the top this is the one and only color Alto was done copy those
are the selection handles this is done so this is 12 year-old Susan Hammett did
this and make the sides very short and
give it a lot of sides and you got a circle change the color and now so at
this point this is one of these things where we thought oh boy we really got it here these kids are doing tools this is
again about a page of small talk then we had some more powerful stuff this is the
alto doing animation it could handle about 120 square inches of graphics in
real time two and a half D
and I wish a Mac could do that and
here's an animation system that was done by Ron Becker who came and visited us
for a summer so he's drawing in the right hand window and the movie is in
the left hand window so iconic menu
therefore now what he's going to do is show it a path this is about a five page
program in small talk this application
and now he's going to single-step it he
pointed to the steps there gets it to
the bottom
it's gonna get rid of it and put another animation cell over the animation cell
on the right and now he's going to animate it and as he draws in he'll
start seeing whether the Phi phenomenon transform that he wants where the ball
is going to appear squashed if he just draws one squash ball here so you can
see it being inserted in as he draws
okay and it's not quite doing it here so he decides he better match up the
specular reflection on the ball okay
that does it the whole idea of animations you have to have you know
here's another twelve-year-old girl she
took this five page program and added a feature to that's her first animation
then what you wanted to do is to make a separate jockey
I can superimpose the jockey on the horse okay now they become one animated
now I can have the jockey and the horse run across the stream screen by making
another program
and I think the last one here oh this
one is using the alto the alto was about
six mitts
so you could actually get it to do real-time FM this is the first real-time
FM ever done so it's roughly like having a 1/8 voice Yamaha synthesizer for free
there it is as a as a stopped I appears
kind of a bowed string
all pantech here's Dave Robson's
favorite tune Ashley
so multi tommrow each of the voices is in a different time [Music]
one of the tragedies of modern day person computers is that even though
they have the MIPS to do this the operating systems are programmed so
badly that you actually can't make use of it you have to buy a separate gadget
to do it and then finally here's some these are the top 10 Xerox executives
actually again in 1978 we built in this
tool called this is a sim kit and this was done by the guy who was head of
versa Tech which was owned by Xerox at that time and it was a simulation of his
this is the time from learning this to
finishing this application was three
hours done over two days okay so this
shows printed circuit boards being routed through the Versa tech line some
of them are rejected for defects again
this is a tough program to do on personal computers today okay stop stop
do please okay so we're just we're just
about out of time so I think I will not I've got a few more things but I think I'll what I'll do is try and summarize
what I think has actually happened I think what has happened to us in the
last 20 years or so is it's kind of what
happened to television television in its earliest days had shows like Playhouse
90 in the Kraft theater where the original drama was done live it was
actually a theatrical medium back then and that was when it was unpopular and
people didn't think it was going to compete with movies and so they could do almost anything they wanted with it they
decided to go for actually fairly high-class stuff then when it became a
commercial medium all of that stuff disappeared from television so I think
in a way if you'll allow me to be an old fart for a minute that a lot of the
stuff that was happening in the 70s because you couldn't make money on this
stuff in the 60s and 70s that was what was so great about being a computer
scientist back then there's absolutely no way making any money what happened was most
of the visions that people did were actually fairly pure they're aimed at
the content in the medium rather than trying to exploit it out to a larger
audience I think what's happened is that over the last ten years or so in the
rush towards getting a larger audience for computing we've actually made the
enormous mistake of giving them what they say they want which is precisely
what television does now instead what we
should have been doing much more strongly is to show them what it could be but it could be with a little more
effort with a little more thinking with a little more interest in peering below
the vein practicalities of life that
this device could actually help you think in a way that you haven't thought before now here we are in 1993 25 years
after the Dinah book I don't think it's entirely too late I think it is too late
for television but I think the I think the main reason it's too late for
television that television is not set up for serious discourse but the computer
is in the next 10 years we could actually do something about restoring
what we all know is really great about computing and the kinds of
representations that only computers can hold and the kinds of things that only
they can help you think about things like dynamic systems
for instance just to give you a statistic I've been reading about aids
in the next 12 years 35 million people are gonna die in Africa from AIDS
there's no reason for it except that the
politicians do not understand what exponential relationships are they have
no sense of how the thing is going to grow because it's still at this lower
level just as it was in the United States an even larger number of people
are going to design died in the Pacific Rim according to the World Health Organization may be as many as 45 or 50
million people think of that in terms of Holocaust Holocaust was 10 million
people spread out over quite if new years right we're talking about on
the order of a factor of ten or twelve Holocaust starvation we have a nation
that will appear at a television set for
two weeks about a little girl stuck in a well remember that baby Jessica every day
40,000 children died on this planet from preventable causes right we have to
start widening our vision from the particular to the general and we have to
start paying attention to these nonlinear processes that are going on
because the nonlinear things are almost uncontrollable once they turn bend the
knee of the curve I think the computer is the best thing that we've ever come
up with if the book was a way of carrying sustained arguments in a way
that stained glass windows couldn't then the computer is a way of dealing with
dynamic nonlinear systems in a way no other medium can that's what we should
be trying to show when we build an application we should always build it in
such a way that the users can look at how it's put together so they have some
sense as they're using the thing that there's some actual machinery don't
cover it up like a toaster or a car give the users a way of appreciating how
these things work together and build their systems consciousness I think it's
one of the most important things we can do and with that let me thank you for
listening to me and thanks for inviting me [Applause]
yes some people maybe look at the way
books happen the people who dealt with books in the
Middle Ages were among the most literate people on earth but there are only a
small percentage and they were the ones that decided which one's got recopy for
other libraries when the printing press came a lot of junk got created right
because that's what happens when you open up to a wider way but in fact the
the spread of the good stuff was more
powerful in the spread of the junk that's why I Neil postman and amusing ourselves to death says says he doesn't
worry about junk television so much because television television is good at
junk and he says after all there been enough books published to fill the Grand Canyon what worries him about a medium
is how good is it when it's trying to be good and his his criticisms against
television are that television isn't very good when it's trying to be good right and so it's not so much whether
there are lousy applications out there they're always going to be we're never going to change
that the problem is there aren't enough really good things out there there
aren't enough people who are doing things whose main job it is to be good
right and that's one of the things that I think was the hallmark of Park when as
it existed in the 70s and today the stuff I mean the stuff that's being done
here are exemplars of the way people should be thinking about computing and
we just have to be much more vociferous about trying to get this stuff out it
will affect some people because it's not and it's not as it's not a sweetness and
light story because if you look at the history of printing some people won and
some people lost right so there were power shifts and printing didn't benefit
everybody and the people who were made powerful by printing where it wasn't a
completely democratic process in fact America 200 years ago is probably if you
discount little details like women and slaves
which you know we don't talk about in American history there are actually
three million people in the thirteen
colonies back then but one a one and a half million of them were slaves and they're not counted in the in the common
common sense story so if you if you
extend what they were trying to do into ideals then we were the most literate
nation on earth for about a century more than in Europe and stuff because it was
part of the discourse of this country to be involved in what was what was going
on now was a brief period now it's
likely some some group would have to move to Australia to use computers that
way right in other words it's the the idea of completely reforming a
population in any direction whatsoever I think is not realistic but I think what
you have to do is make sure that there is much more of a sense of when to act
like it's I've done quite a bit recently with Mitch Cape or in some of those
electronics frontiers stuff and I've talked to quite a few congressmen over the last year or so and I hope sincerely
that they are not really representative of the American public because they are
by and large they actually are incredibly ill educated they know almost
nothing there are no analogies you can use with them and I think we all sort of
realize that but so the the idea the the question is is at some point in order to
enact legislation for things that are
potential disasters we have to be able to imagine the disaster in some detail
because we have to be able to translate abstractions into reality in a way that
is extremely difficult on television is about the opposite television servos
what your imagination is so does actually aunt I imagine imagination and
most of the stuff that we do with kids in school today is essentially anti
television it's trying to restore their
own ability for importing meaning into things rather than getting it sent to them packaged so
I'm talking about things on that scale I'm trying to talk about something that's realistic here and just pointing
out that just as mathematics adds to
print literacy because it makes it easy to talk about things that are very
difficult in ordinary language the computer has some things that are very
difficult to talk about in terms of classical mathematics right so it's not
a question of just learning this or learning that but it's a question of trying to understand what them each of
these media can do and then try and make that part of the composite literacy that
we try and teach the kids at an early age yes Danny yeah frightening well one
of the one of the things that we did here at Parc a long time ago in fact in
the warehouse the machine is probably around but we had this wonderful eye tracker from SR I and one of the
experiments we did was reading experiments off the alto because I'm a
fairly good reader and I was surprised at how hard it was to read off the screen and it didn't seem right that it
should be that hard to read because it was fairly clear and we discovered that
the better the reader you are the harder it is to read off a CRT and the reason
is is that just as you can see a change out here in the periphery of your vision
before you can see its fingers because you're legally blind outside your fovea
but you're a hundred times more sensitive to brightness out here and the
reason is something might be charging you right and so what happens whenever
there's a flicker out here your eye darts over it does this acade and darts
over and so when you're up clubs televisions were made to look at across the room with a narrow viewing angle so
you put one of the two put a two-page monitor in front of your face and try
and read text off it your eyes are bouncing all over your head and 10% of
the people who try to do that get actual vertigo from it so the CRT is actually
antagonistic to the discourse that built our civilization namely print discourse
so you can't even put that on there it's what it likes is low resolution moving
pictures like television does so the belief is is that you have to go to flat
screen displays which can either are
they either are static active-matrix
displays or they run at over 100 frames
per second so that people can start actually doing reading and then you can
choose how the things are going to trade off but I've told the Apple many times
that just putting like Elsie's into schools willy-nilly is not actually
going to is not likely to help because putting text on the screen there is is
not helping the kids to read it in a very strong way so they're all what I'm
saying is you know what very well they're all of these human factors things that have to be taken into
account when you're when you're doing this stuff now I think the computer has
many things quite above what a television set can do but I don't think
many people out in the commercial area care about that what they want is
something that people will buy a whole new set of replacement televisions that
have special stuff built in and it's going to be very difficult to put in
certain kinds of content if the display
is restricted to being a CRT yes
right that it one more question I truly
think that looking into we would work in the environment we have not I'm still an
integral person right I mean we leave you know to try the outside when we come
into work leaves the feeling family
outside a religion we leave our entity or sometimes our culture we are we in a
sense of you're not necessarily an interpretive person when you re are an
environment that is supposed to bring out the creativity right yeah my feeling
is that that environment where the planting is right now today he's
actually you're kidding the Army's than the Creator yeah I think you have to
meet his face I think on that stuff you just have to be tough about it and move
like Xerox PARC in the about the first
six years was about as good as any place I've ever been just because it was really wild and
wonderful and the top level of
executives like Taylor had a very good umbrella out and some of them sacrificed
their careers actually in order to protect us and so as a wonderful place
and then it gradually you know all it's very hard to keep any kind of an Eden
alive for a long time the executives start eating of the the apples and and
so forth and
the way you can have it is just being I think that I mean here's I don't want to
make this too long-winded but it's interesting that Nature has not built in
any sensitivity to how much fat we eat
or how much salt we eat or how much sugar we eat the reason was it was always scarce right and we have problems
in modern civil assault a chase us right
and now that we can manufacture all of these things we actually have to have a value system for dealing with things
that we don't have built-in constraints on when I was in the Air Force they one
of things that used to do to impress on us how careful you had to be about your oxygens they take us up in an altitude
chamber and have us take off our masks at different altitudes and do some tasks
and see what happened and I can tell you that there's literally no sensation of
any kind when you get hypoxia none one
minute you're doing it and the next minute somebody's holding a mask over your face so if you ever want to commit
suicide this is the way to do it but the
point is why aren't we sensitive to lack of oxygen because nature for the heck of
it decided to make us sensitive to buildup of carbon dioxide we gasp when
we have too much carbon dioxide in our system we have no sense of whether we have enough oxygen works perfectly well
at sea level and there's no reason right because nobody knew about flying so what
I'm saying is is that same thing with something like television our visual system loves moving images because of
that McLuhan predicted that the shot length on television would gradually
decrease from the length that was on movies which is about 15 seconds a shot
to something much much shorter okay and
a couple of years ago they measured it and it was 2.4 seconds for network
television content and 1.68 seconds for commercials right and of course MTV
and the point is what so people used to ask McLuhan why don't you read
psychology books because you're talking about humans he says well psychologists
study white rats he says what I read what I look at is what the advertising
people are doing they're the ones that are studying humans right so when you
look so he figured that the advertising people in a Darwinian fashion are homing
in on all of our frailties and all you have to do is look at these successful
ads and you can tell a lot about human psychology so the boiling it all down
for anything where technology can supply an overabundance of something you have
to have a value system to oppose it this is why Neil postman says the job of any
good school is to do the opposite of what the common culture is doing so if
the common culture is being boring then schools should be radical okay or
oppressive school should be radical but if the common culture is radical then
school should be conservative so it should be acting as a thermostat as a
big feedback mechanism to try and keep some stability right instead what our
schools are set up to do is to do positive feedback and whatever the
culture thinks instead and so we get these overshoot situations but I think
is wrong so the answer is just like in the 60s you know I think you have to
decide every working group can decide how its going to conduct itself and you
just have to be tough about it I think it's really important and just you know
because if you guys are working successfully and you're having fun too
then you just say that's it this is the way we do our successful work we do it
by having fun and thinking about this stuff there's a great tradition here
believe me the amount of beer that was drunk outside the amount of tennis that
was played outside the amount of I don't
know that where the the locker rooms are still here but they must still be the
amount of stuff that happened outside this building at Parc was enormous in
the 70s people are only here about half the time because they're always out
doing stuff with each other and shooting the shit over at the Black Forest and Los Altos
sir going out - Rosati drinking beer driving up to Alice's biking up to
Alice's Restaurant and I think one of the antidotes to a to oppressive
environment is just take the whole group out and just get a just have a normal
thing where you where you do some of your discussion somewhere else there's a
rule that says you should never ask an executive to do something that's
difficult in his office because that's where they say no right if you want to
do it get it do something tougher than exactly you have to take them out of their office and walk them around
outside and it changes them completely
thank you [Applause]