Good Alan Kay quotes

August 4, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 7 Comments

If you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.

Most software today is very much like an Egyptian pyramid with millions of bricks piled on top of each other, with no structural integrity, but just done by brute force and thousands of slaves.

Most creativity is a transition from one context into another where things are more surprising. There’s an element of surprise, and especially in science, there is often laughter that goes along with the “Aha.” Art also has this element. Our job is to remind us that there are more contexts than the one that we’re in—the one that we think is reality.

Perspective is worth 80 IQ points.

Quite a few people have to believe something is normal before it becomes normal – a sort of ‘voting’ situation. But once the threshold is reached, then everyone demands to do whatever it is.

Some people worry that artificial intelligence will make us feel inferior, but then, anybody in his right mind should have an inferiority complex every time he looks at a flower.

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.

By the time I got to school, I had already read a couple hundred books. I knew in the first grade that they were lying to me because I had already been exposed to other points of view. School is basically about one point of view — the one the teacher has or the textbooks have. They don’t like the idea of having different points of view, so it was a battle. Of course I would pipe up with my five-year-old voice.

Simple things should be simple. Complex things should be possible.

Technology is anything that wasn’t around when you were born.

OOP to me means only messaging, local retention and protection and hiding of state-process, and extreme late-binding of all things. It can be done in Smalltalk and in LISP. There are possibly other systems in which this is possible, but I’m not aware of them.

I finally understood that the half page of code on the bottom of page 13 of the Lisp 1.5 manual was Lisp in itself. These were “Maxwell’s Equations of Software!”

… greatest single programming language ever designed. (About Lisp programming language)

The future is not laid out on a track. It is something that we can decide, and to the extent that we do not violate any known laws of the universe, we can probably make it work the way that we want to.

Actually I made up the term “object-oriented”, and I can tell you I did not have C++ in mind.

Computing spread out much, much faster than educating unsophisticated people can happen. In the last 25 years or so, we actually got something like a pop culture, similar to what happened when television came on the scene and some of its inventors thought it would be a way of getting Shakespeare to the masses. But they forgot that you have to be more sophisticated and have more perspective to understand Shakespeare. What television was able to do was to capture people as they were. So I think the lack of a real computer science today, and the lack of real software engineering today, is partly due to this pop culture.



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  1. Do you have sources for some of these quotes? I’d love to read some of the interviews/essays from which they come, especially the last.

  2. I got most of them from the following quotation pages:

    Others I got just from google searching his name. They were spread out, so I decided to put them up in a blog post.

    Here’s an interview that have a few of his quotes:

  3. “Point of view is worth 80 IQ points” is from a 1998 talk Kay gave to the Stanford Computing Forum. Here’s a link:

    “Perspective is worth 80 IQ points” – as above, is close, but not the original quote

    This talk also contains the quote, and a reference to its original context,
    “The best way to invent the future is to invent it.”

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  6. […] I will not argue the pros and cons of linked-data-api, but it may appeal to many web developers in the spirit of “Simple things should be simple.“. […]

  7. […] you don’t fail at least 90 percent of the time, you’re not aiming high enough.” — Alan Kay (thanks […]

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