2004 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Advanced Technology

Information Science

Alan Curtis Kay

/  Computer Scientist

1940 -

President, Viewpoints Research Institute

Commemorative Lectures

The Center of “Why?”


11 /11 Thu

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center


Future of Personal Computing and Education


11 /12 Fri

13:00 - 17:10

Place:Kyoto international Conference Hall

Achievement Digest

Creation of the Concept of Modern Personal Computing and Outstanding Contribution to Its Realization

In the second half of the 1960s, when the mainstream trend was toward ever larger computers, Dr. Kay proposed the concept of the personal computer as a tool to support the intellectual work of individuals, and so initiated a paradigm shift in the computer world. Furthermore, as a pioneer in the development of the graphic user interface and object-oriented language environment, he has made a fundamental contribution to the realization of today’s personal computing.


Dr. Kay envisaged that computers should be “personal and dynamic media”, and originated the concept and ideals and has contributed to its realization that would be developed into the “personal computer” which is used in a wide range of applications today.

At the end of the 1960s, computers were expensive machines used by specialists and using one of these machines required knowledge of programming languages. Manufacturing efforts focused on producing the largest computers possible. Dr. Kay envisioned “creating a computer to support the intellectual endeavors of individuals,” and so began R&D on what he called the “personal computer.” In the early 1970s, he unveiled his concept for the “Dynabook” machine, which represented the ideal of a personal computer. The Dynabook conceived as a computer that could be used freely by anyone -even children -was portable, could be connected to a wireless network. The idea represented a complete paradigm shift in what a computer was and how it could be used.

To make his concept a reality, Dr. Kay contributed to the development of the Alto personal computer as one of the principal designers at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center. Alto already had nearly all of the important features common to personal computers employed today. In particular, the innovative interface for visually operating the computer is the origin of the current graphical user interface, that Dr. Kay involved to its design of e.g. over-lapping windows. In the area of software, Dr. Kay led the invention of “Smalltalk,” a programming development environment. The success of programming using an object oriented syntax not only had a major impact on the design of such computer languages, but also made a significant contribution to the general methodology for developing the present-day complex information systems.

Dr. Kay recognized early on that computers could make a major contribution to education, and much of his work has been dedicated to computer education for children, especially small children. He is leading projects to teach school children the basics of software and the thought processes for system construction so that they can learn effortlessly with these. The objective is to carefully guide the children through the stages of development to provide them with the foundation they need to become individuals who can thrive in the information society.

Through his more than 30 years of personal dedication to seeing that vision realized and inspiring its refinement, Dr. Kay has given dreams to computer developers, and has made fundamental contributions to the dramatic expansion of computer applications and to a fundamental transformation of the way we approach intellectual, creative, social and economic activities today.

For these reasons, the Inamori Foundation is pleased to present the 2004 Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology Category to Dr. Alan Curtis Kay.


Born in Springfield, Massachusetts, U.S.A.
University of Utah Ph.D. (Computer Science)
Research Associate and Lecturer, AI Project, Stanford University
Researcher and Fellow, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center
Chief Scientist, Atari
Fellow, Apple Computer
Vice President, Research and Development, The Walt Disney Co.
Founder and President, Viewpoints Research Institute, Inc.
Senior Fellow, Hewlett-Packard Company
Program Manager, IPA Exploratory Software Project
Visiting Professor, Department of Social Informatics, Kyoto University
Adjunct Professor, Department of Computer Science, UCLA
Sr. Scientist, Div. Info. Technology, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Selected Awards and Honors
Software Systems Award, ACM
Lifetime Achievement Award, SPA
J-D Warnier Prix d'Informatique
Outstanding Educator Award, ACM SIGCSE
Outstanding Achievement in the Field of Computing Award, IMAS
C&C Prize, NEC
A. M. Turing Award, ACM
C. S. Draper Prize, National Academy of Engineering
Royal Society of Arts, National Academy of Engineering
Selected Publications
Personal dynamic media (with Adele Goldberg), IEEE Computer, March, 31, 1977.
Computer Software, Scientific American, 251, 41, 1984.
User interface: A personal view, in The Art of Human-Computer Interface Design, ed. (Brenda Laurel, Addison-Wesley) 191, 1990.
The early history of smalltalk, in ACM History of programming languages II, (Addison-Wesley), 1996.
Back to the future: the story of squeak - a usable smalltalk written in itself (with D. Ingalls, T. Kaehler, J. Maloney, S. Wallace), OOPSLA 1997: 318, 1997.

Profile is at the time of the award.