The Early History of Smalltalk
Alan C. Kay
© 1993 ACM
Most ideas come from previous ideas. The sixties, particularly in the ARPA
community, gave rise to a host of notions about "human-computer symbiosis"
through interactive time-shared computers, graphics screens and pointing
devices. Advanced computer languages were invented to simulate complex systems
such as oil refineries and semi-intelligent behavior. The soon-to-follow
paradigm shift of modern personal computing, overlapping window interfaces,
and object-oriented design came from seeing the work of the sixties as
something more than a "better old thing." This is, more than a better way: to
do mainframe computing; for end-users to invoke functionality; to make data
structures more abstract. Instead the promise of exponential growth in
computing /$/ volume demanded that the sixties be regarded as "almost a new
thing" and to find out what the actual "new things" might be. For example, one
would computer with a handheld "Dynabook" in a way that would not be possible
on a shared mainframe; millions of potential users meant that the user
interface would have to become a learning environment along the lines of
Montessori and Bruner; and needs for large scope, reduction in complexity, and
end-user literacy would require that data and control structures be done away
with in favor of a more biological scheme of protected universal cells
interacting only through messages that could mimic any desired behavior.
Early Smalltalk was the first complete realization of these new points of
view as parented by its many predecessors in hardware, language and user
interface design. It became the exemplar of the new computing, in part,
because we were actually trying for a qualitative shift in belief
structures--a new Kuhnian paradigm in the same spirit as the invention of the
printing press-and thus took highly extreme positions which almost forced
these new styles to be invented.
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December 19 2014
On speaking languages
naturally with ease
aiming for fluid fluency.