Randy says that enabling the dreams of others can happen one-on-one, fifty to a hundred people at a time like at the Entertainment Technology Center, or you can “attempt to do it on a grand scale, trying to enable the dreams of millions…” That is the story behind Alice, the Carnegie Mellon software tool Randy developed. Alice is software designed to allow anyone, young or old, create animations for storytelling, games, or making videos. Randy’s end-goal is to have tens of millions of kids use it to chase their dreams. He sees Alice as a prime example of the “head fake,” because students think they’re using Alice to make movies or create video games, but instead they’re actually “learning how to become computer programmers.”
Allowing other people to turn their dreams into realities is at the heart of the Alice project. But, even more than that, Randy uses the “head fake” (which he learned from Coach Graham) as a central part of Alice, so that users will learn practical computer programming skills while trying to make movies or create games.
Walt Disney’s dream for Disney World was that it would never stop growing and changing, even after he died, and Randy has the same hopes for Alice. Alice’s lead designer is Dennis Cosgrove, one of Randy’s former students. Caitlin Kelleher, another of his students, helped Randy early on in noting that the program might be fun for boys, but it wasn’t really for girls. So, for her PhD dissertation, Caitlin built a system called “storytelling Alice,” and to this day she develops new systems to revolutionize how young girls get their first programming experiences. Caitlin figured out that if programming is presented as storytelling rather than software writing, girls are perfectly willing to learn how to write software—everybody loves telling stories, and, in Randy’s mind, Caitlin wins the “All-Time Best Head-Fake Award.”
Shifting how the Alice software is presented to girls helps further the “head fake” embedded in Alice. When presented as “programming,” girls aren’t as apt to enjoy using the Alice software, but when it is presented as a “storytelling exercise,” girls are just as willing as boys to use it and enjoy it (and learn the same programming skills along the way).
During Randy’s last lecture, he mentions that he understands the story of Moses better, as he knows he will never see Alice ascend into the popularity he imagines for it, but he is confident in knowing that it will go on to great things. If Randy has to die, he’s comfortable having Alice as his professional legacy, because “millions of kids are going to have incredible fun while learning something hard.” And they’ll develop skills “that could help them achieve their dreams.”
Randy is optimistic that, by leaving Alice in the hands of professionals he knows and trusts, he has taken proactive steps to ensure that his program will help as many other people achieve their dreams as possible after his death.