In June of this year, the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) celebrated the centenary of Alan Turing's birth by holding a conference with presentations by more than 30 Turing Award winners. The conference was filled with unusual lectures and panels both about Turing and present-day computing. During a break in the proceedings, I interviewed Alan Kay--a Turing Award recipient known for many innovations and his articulated belief that the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
[A side note: Re-creating Kay's answers to interview questions was particularly difficult. Rather than the linear explanation in response to an interview question, his answers were more of a cavalcade of topics, tangents, and tales threaded together, sometimes quite loosely--always rich, and frequently punctuated by strong opinions. The text that follows attempts to create somewhat more linearity to the content.]
Childhood As A Prodigy
Binstock: Let me start by asking you about a famous story. It states that you'd read more than 100 books by the time you went to first grade. This reading enabled you to realize that your teachers were frequently lying to you.
Kay: Yes, that story came out in a commemorative essay I was asked to write.
Binstock: So you're sitting there in first grade, and you're realizing that teachers are lying to you. Was that transformative? Did you all of a sudden view the whole world as populated by people who were dishonest?
Kay: Unless you're completely, certifiably insane, or a special kind of narcissist, you regard yourself as normal. So I didn't really think that much of it. I was basically an introverted type, and I was already following my own nose, and it was too late. I was just stubborn when they made me go along.