Joe the Box Squeaks

Alan C. Kay alank at
Tue Mar 31 22:43:38 UTC 1998

Thanks Mark --

Actually "Joe the Box" was invented by Adele Goldberg (c.f. my "Early History of Smalltalk" in SIGPLAN '93 and HOPL II book '85) in the early seventies as a way to teach Smalltalk-72 to 12 year olds (and younger). "Joe the box" was a brilliant solution to how to start programming -- it was certaibly the oldest good Smalltalk curriculum -- and I'm really glad to see it back!

The predictions were actually done in the late sixties (FLEX machine, and then the Dynabook) as part of the (larger ARPA) notion of "personal computing" (I contributed the term) as an end-user environment of endlessly extensible tools. By the way, we all still have to make all the predictions good!

Cheers to all,



At 4:28 PM -0500 3/31/98, Mark Guzdial wrote:
>Longtime Smalltalk users and fans may recall the Sept. '77 Scientific
>American in which Alan Kay introduced "Joe the Box" to the world, in
>"Microelectronics and the Personal Computer".  Joe is a graphical box which
>can be grown, tilted, and animated. Joe is actually older than 1977 -- he
>appears in my tattered and multiply-photocopied "Smalltalk-72 Instruction
>Manual," which I think makes him the oldest piece of Smalltalk curriculum.
>Since I've decided to focus on graphics and UI in my Squeak-using class
>this quarter, Joe was the perfect intro to objects and drawing.  So, I put
>together a small Joe the Box world and used it in class today -- a 25+ year
>old piece of curriculum, and it really seemed to work well!  My lecture
>notes and the download link are at
>  (I
>understand that LearningWorks includes a version of Joe the Box, too, but I
>haven't been able to get it to run on my PowerMac :-(
>It's really interesting to read over Alan's '77 article and compare the
>predictions to today.  If you think of spreadsheets as a kind of
>"simulation" and make similar kinds of swaps, the following paragraph seems
>to be pretty descriptive of modern day:
>  Ideally the personal computer will be designed in such a way
>  that people of all ages and walks of life can mold and channel its
>  power to their own needs. Architects should be able to simulate
>  three-dimensional space in order to reflect on and modify
>  their current designs. Physicians should be able to store and
>  organize a large quantity of information about their
>  patients, enabling them to perceive significant relations
>  that would otherwise be imperceptible. Composers should be
>  able to hear a composition as they are composing it, notably if
>  it is too complex for them to play. Businessmen should have an
>  active briefcase that contains a working simulation of their
>  company. Educators should be able to implement their own
>  version of a Socratic dialogue with dynamic simulation and
>  graphic animation. Homemakers should be able to store and
>  manipulate records, accounts, budgets, recipes, and
>  reminders. Children should have an active learning tool that
>  gives them ready access to large stores of knowledge in ways
>  that are not possible with mediums such as books.
>The weakest match is probably to the "Educators" and "active learning tool"
>predictions, which is what makes educational technology an interesting
>field to be in...
>Mark Guzdial : Georgia Tech : College of Computing : Atlanta, GA 30332-0280
>(404) 894-5618 : Fax (404) 894-0673 : guzdial at

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