I find it very intriguing how he talks about research as art. This is a departure from the typical paradigms applied to computing, such as the engineering-centric view, or the (noxious) business-y view. But I think he is dead-on here: most of the truly inspiring technologies are not designed by committee.
I’ve just gone through a few discussions on HN where Alan Kay replied extensively (including comments very similar to these emails):
Some of the best discussions I’ve ever seen online. Gave me a lot to think about, as well as a lot of pointers for further reading.
I’m a big fan of Alan Kay and the VPRI, but I always wondered why some of their most interesting projects (COLA by Ian Piumarta, for instance) never really got much traction. It seems to me that the dynamics of innovation have drastically changed since the PARC era. Now innovation seems much more social and decentralized, and new developments happen much more organically without the need for third-party funding. The open-source distributed model is actually quite effective, see the RepRap community in 3D printing. That being said, major breakthroughs or radical ideas are probably less likely to happen without proper funding, simply because they require a critical mass of people and initial time investment. However, I can’t help but see a lot of nostalgia from Alan Kay’s recent talks and writing. Maybe it’s time for other Alan Kays to emerge from the distributed innovation community?
I wonder if an innovation needs a gradual shift from protected environment to public engagement. Really groundbreaking ideas can’t happen on a plan or in the spotlight. They take time away, as Alan says. But to go from breakthrough to impact on the world today takes vast investment from many people, usually under an open-source model. (Heavy funding can substitute for broadly distributed passion, of course.)