2012 Domino Award Winning Essay

The Innovator

written by John Lanz

Behind the success of Xerox, Windows, Apple, Atari, Walt Disney Imagineering, HP Labs, and even the NASDAQ are technologies developed by the brilliance of a few masterminds, one of whom is computer scientist and innovator, Alan Kay. His contributions not only led to the astonishing advancement in countless technological companies but his inventiveness has shaped the very way the world communicates in the realm of technology and software. The effects of Kay’s influences are hard to fathom, his name is most commonly associated with the development of object-oriented programming and graphical user interface. However, his pioneering of automated computer program trading and his love for teaching may not be as well known.

In 1968, being ahead of his time, Kay foresaw the nitch for computers in the stock market. With the NASD, National Association of Securities Dealers, and the NYSE, New York Stock Exchange, dragging their feet on implementing new technologies, Kay ceased the opportunity to create the first automated exchange system, naming it AutEx. The invention of the AutEx computer console allowed for users to transfer messages of their desired trades in the stock exchanges. The user’s needs would then be broadcast to all subscribed brokers who would then proceed with the transaction. At first Kay’s innovative design drew much skepticism amongst the NYSE brokers, worried for the securities of their jobs. Nevertheless, the AutEx eventually caught the NASD’s attention leading to the development of their unique automated trading system. Soon others would develop more sophisticated systems such as Instinet, created by Jerome Pustilnik.

Eventually the NYSE joined the NASD and took to the idea of the automated trading. In time technology took a stronger hold in exchanges across the world, allowing markets to become global and real-time. With automated trading the markets saw great growth due to the abilities a computer has not only with accounting but with the aptitude and capacity to organize and create an electronically controlled system dealing with thousands of numbers and users from across the world. Ultimately in 1970 the NASD announced a new exchange, the NASDAQ, National Association of Securities Dealers Automated Quotations, which adapted to the rise of computer system’s automated technology whom Alan Kay originally created.

Not only has Kay jump-started the use of technology in the stock market, he is acknowledged as an invaluable person in the creation of object-oriented programming (OOP), which he named, at PARC, Palo Alto Research Center Incorporated, and at the Norwegian Computing Center. The implications of OOP are immense. It has enabled the design of fundamental languages such as: C++, Objective-C, Java, Ruby, Python, and many more. Additionally Kay created the Dynabook, a mobile computer or “laptop” that was intended to deliver digital media to children in the form of a personal computer. Looking at his prototype design one can see the resemblance between Alan Kay’s Dynabook and Steve Job’s Ipad.

Kay’s visionary ideas to bring technology into the hands of children did not end with the Dynabook but has continued on in his active involvement in the One Laptop Per Child program. They supply laptops to children in the developing world enabling youth to learn about technologies, specifically computers; subsequently enabling the growth of computer science in the third world, a critical component in the growth of people and countries in today’s society. This nonprofit organization, in which Kay has been a key member, has inspired giant technological companies such as AMD, eBay, Google, Marvell, and News Corporation to participate thus allowing One Laptop Per Child an even bigger opportunity to promote growth and change.

Being a key member of the computer science community Alan Kay has not only influenced the subjects of software and hardware but he has been an influential member of society from changing the way the world does business to creating opportunities for children in need. This computer scientist has done more than just topple the first domino in the chain of innovation. He has created paths and opportunities in which the brightest and most active members of his field have followed him, making monumental discoveries every step of the way.


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