The roots of “personal computers” – that is, machines that are not shared between users – date back to at least the late 1950s. Within a decade, several more of these “one machine, one user” computers were developed; and the idea of a user having direct control over the computer was established, at least within academia.
In 1968, young computer scientist Alan Kay gave a presentation on the FLEX Machine at a meeting of computer science graduate students and saw the first working versions of a new flat panel plasma display technology. This led to discussions about how nice it would be to (someday) place the FLEX computer itself on the back of such a display to make a notebook-sized computer.
A visit a few months later to MIT computer scientist and educator Seymour Papert and to a school with children doing advanced math with Papert’s LOGO programming language, produced an epiphany in Kay. He decided to make “A Personal Computer For Children Of All Ages.” This was to be in the form of a compact notebook using both tablet and keyboard, a flat-screen display, GUI, and the wireless networking that defense funding agency ARPA was starting to experiment with.
This idea eventually acquired the name “Dynabook” as an homage to what the printed book has meant to civilization and learning. It is also a gesture to a future in which not just the content of “books” will be dynamic, but the relationship of people to computers will itself also change.
The founding of Xerox PARC a few years after the Dynabook concept provided support and a context for developing many of these ideas. In fact, the PARC “Alto” workstation was originally called “the interim Dynabook”. Many of the results from this research influenced commercial computing, including the bit-mapped screen, high-quality text and graphics, overlapping windows and an icon-based GUI, desktop publishing, object-oriented programming, and many others.
Join Steve Hamm of BusinessWeek as he moderates a panel discussion to celebrate this idea that provided metaphor, motivation and inventions for the personal computers of today.
This event is generously sponsored by One Laptop Per Child (laptop.org).
- Alan Kay
- Charles Thacker
- Mary Lou Jepsen
Computer History Museum
1401 N. Shoreline Boulevard
Mountain View, CA, 94043