Alan Kay on predicting the future

Xerox Alto

Xerox Alto
Image credit: DigiBarn Computer Museum

The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
— Alan Kay, in a meeting between Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) researchers and Xerox planners in 1971.


The origin of the quote came from an early meeting in 1971 of PARC, Palo Alto Research Center, folks and the Xerox planners. In a fit of passion I uttered the quote!
— Alan Kay, in an email to Peter W. Lount on September 17, 1998. Cited on the Smalltalk website.

Xerox PARC (a computer science think tank for which Kay was a founding principal in 1970) was set up in Palo Alto to be as far away from corporate headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut as possible and still be in the continental U.S. We used to have visits from the Xerox executives–usually in January and February–and when we could get them off the tennis courts they would come into the building at PARC. Mainly they were worried about the future, and they would badger us about what’s going to happen to us. Finally, I said: “Look, the best way to predict the future is to invent it. This is the century in which you can be proactive about the future; you don’t have to be reactive. The whole idea of having scientists and technology is that those things you can envision and describe can actually be built.” It was a surprise to them and it worried them.
Remarks by Alan Kay from his address before the 20th annual meeting of the Stanford Computer Forum in 1988.

Subsequent Use and Expansion

Related during his speech at a one-day conference sponsored by the Teachers College at Columbia University.
Cited in Deborah Wise’s article “Experts speculate on future electronic learning environment”, InfoWorld, April 26, 1982, p. 6.

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"The best way to predict the future is to invent it"

Related during his speech at the “Success in Software” conference, sponsored by Roger von Oech‘s Creative Think organization. Here are Andy Hertzfeld‘s notes from Alan Kay’s presentation at that conference. Cited in Maggie Cannon’s article “Software innovation and marketing spotlighted” in InfoWorld, August 16, 1982, p. 14.

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"The best way to predict the future is to invent it"
Alan Kay Posted on behalf of on Thursday, December 31st, 2009 under Quotations.

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