Readings from the AI Lab, 60s through 70s

Listed here are some old AI Memos that make good reading. I copied them from a search at http://www.ai.mit.edu/research/publications/ for Logo or Papert. Except for the first citation the memos focus on Logo.

Another list of Logo memos can be found at http://www.sonoma.edu/users/l/luvisi/logo/logo.memos.html

This one is a classic Papert response.


The Artificial Intelligence of Hubert L. Dreyfus: A Budget of Fallacies

Author[s]: Seymour Papert
Date: January 1968

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6084/AIM-154.pdf

Abstract: In December 1965 a paper by Hubert Dreyfus revived the old game of generating curious arguments for and against Artificial Intelligence. Dreyfus hit top form in September 1967 with an explanation in the Review of Metaphysics of the philosophically interesting difficulties encountered in constructing robots. The best of these is that a mechanical arm controlled by a digital computer could not reasonably be expected to move fast enough to play ping-pong.


A Computer Laboratory for Elementary Schools

Author[s]: Seymour Papert
Date: October 1971

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/5834/AIM-246.pdf

Abstract: This is a research project on elementary education whose immediate objective is the development of new methods and materials for teaching in an environment of computers and computer-controlled devices. Longer term objectives are related to theories of cognitive processes and to conjectures about the possibility of producing much larger changes than are usually thought possible in the expected intellectual achievement of children. This proposal is formulated in terms of the self-sufficient immediate objectives.


Teaching Children Thinking

Author[s]: Seymour Papert
Date: October 1971

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/5835/AIM-247.pdf

Abstract: This paper is dedicated to the hope that someone with power to act will one day see that contemporary research on education is like the following experiment by a nineteenth century engineer who worked to demonstrate that engines were better than horses. This he did by hitching a 1/8 HP motor in parallel with his team of four strong stallions. After a year of statistical research he announced a significant difference. However, it was generally thought that there was a Hawthorne effect on the horses.

Complete version is here: http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss3/seminal/article3.cfm and from that site a pdf can be downloaded.

Papert, S. (2005). You Can’t think about thinking without thinking about thinking about something. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial],5(3/4).

Available: http://www.citejournal.org/vol5/iss3/seminal/article4.cfm

You Can’t Think About Thinking
Without Thinking About
Thinking About Something
Seymour Papert
Professor Emeritus, Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Although printed in 1970, “Teaching Children Thinking” was conceived in 1968 and bears the signs of the heady atmosphere of that time. Across the society change was in the air, deeply rooted assumptions were being challenged. On a smaller and less active but not less radical scale challenges to taken-for-granted ideas about children, about education and about computers energized my MIT seminars and ongoing discussions with an active group (Solomon, Feuerzeig, Bobrow et al.) at BBN1. We were sure that when computers became as common as pencils (which we knew would happen) education would change as fast and as deeply as the transformations through which we were living in civil rights and social and sexual relations. I still think this will happen even though the time needed is turning out to be a little longer than we imagined and the process more complex. When it does happen it will use the ideas that we worked so hard to develop back then.
In the meantime it is gratifying to see that many of these ideas have become part of the practice of schools and the lives of children. Some of my colleagues are disappointed that School manages to so dilute the ideas or so circumscribe their impact that they can be “integrated” into an essentially unchanged system. I have learned to see things differently through my Piaget-trained eyes. At the core of Piaget’s theory of development is the process he calls assimilation: when new ideas are taken in by a child they are first reconstituted to fit the child’s mental structures. Only later, through the interaction of many such elements, do the structures themselves change in a phase he calls_accommodation_. I am quite amazed at how educators who try to follow Piaget’s ideas when thinking about children fail to understand that change in School, or any other complex system, must come about in the same way. School has to assimilate new ideas to its own structure before these structures can change. I see what is happening in educational technology today as a late stage of such an assimilation phase of the kinds of ideas prefigured in “Teaching Children Thinking.” The first signs of the accommodation phase are just beginning.
An example of one of the ideas in “Teaching Children Thinking” that has had wide but diluted currency in education is the description of how a child might program a robot to follow a line. There is a direct line of descent from Teaching Children Thinking” via my 1980 book, Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas, to the launching by LEGO of its robotic construction system named LEGO® Mindstorms ™, which has now introduced millions of children to programming along the lines described in “Teaching Children Thinking.” In my model of change, the importance of this is that it gives another degree of depth and concreteness to the idea that simple elements of engineering and of computer science are relevant in the elementary school. This could only happen by filtering out some of the more radical overtones of these ideas. I’ll mention two.
Of these the one that is most explicit in “Teaching Children Thinking” is the idea of migrating into the world of children at least some of the great benefits the CIC (Computation, Information and Complexity) sciences have brought to the way in which cognitive scientists understand thinking. Why should children not also use computational ideas to improve their understanding of their own thinking, learning and playing? Well, because this is not in the national standards! I predict that it will be.
An important resonance of the kind of work described in “Teaching Children Thinking” that was left implicit for reasons I cannot remember (we certainly spent many hours discussing it in the seminars) is the idea at the root of the calculus that local conditions can determine global form. The following examples show how key ideas of calculus can be made quite concrete in early elementary school.
Example 1

Draw a circle by the instructions “forward a tiny bit (in calculus language fd dx) right turn a tiny bit (rt dθ) and repeat (integrate.)”
Example 2

Make a turtle seek a distant light by “ if to the left rt dθ, if to the right ltd A, fd dx, repeat.”
The question that makes the difference between being optimistic or pessimistic about what is happening in schools is whether getting the ideas into the system in simplified form prepares the way for the deeper form or betrays it. I say, “Marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow!”
I end by mentioning two less specific “firsts” with which “Teaching Children Thinking” should be credited. At that time the concept of computers in education was synonymous with CAI (computer assisted instruction). I believe that “Teaching Children Thinking” was the first published paper to suggest that the child could be in charge of the machine not the machine in charge of the child by offering what was the a new image of children using computers as tools for creativity2. The idea that “teaching thinking” is appropriate in elementary school does have some antecedents but in 1970 it was certainly not current in the mainstream of American education circles. I see the movement that goes under names like “thinking skills” and “critical thinking” as something that came to prominence much later and was supported if not inspired by a wave of hype on the lines of “Logo teaches logical thinking.” Reading “Teaching Children Thinking” should show that my own views were much more complex: Programming can be used to support learning about thinking, which is a very different claim from saying that in itself it improves thinking skills.
1Cambridge research firm Bolt Berank and Newman, now called BBN Technologies.
2I would appreciate hearing from any reader who knows of earlier publications of this idea.


Twenty Things To Do With A Computer

Author[s]: Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon
Date: June 1971

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/5836/AIM-248.pdf

Abstract: When people talk about computers in education they do not all have the same image in mind. Some think of using the computer to program the kid; others think of using the kid to program the computer. But most of them have at least this in common: the transaction between the computer and the kid will be some kind of “conversation” or “questions and answers” in words or numbers.


Teaching Children to be Mathematicians vs. Teaching About Mathematics

Author[s]: Seymour Papert
Date: July 1971

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/5837/AIM-249.pdf

Abstract: Being a mathematician is no more definable as ‘knowing’ a set of mathematical facts than being a poet is definable as knowing a set of linguistic facts. Some modern math ed reformers will give this statement a too easy assent with the comment: ‘Yes, they must understand, not merely know.’ But this misses the capital point that being a mathematician, again like being a poet, or a composer or an engineer, means doing, rather than knowing or understanding. This essay is an attempt to explore some ways in which one might be able to put children in a better position to do mathematics rather than merely to learn about it.


NIM: A Game-Playing Program

Author[s]: Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon
Date: January 1970

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6199/AIM-254.pdf

Abstract: This note illustrates some ideas about how to initiate beginning students into the art of planning and writing a program complex enough to be considered a project rather than an exercise on using the language or simple programming ideas. The project is to write a program to play a simple game (“one-pile NIM” or “21”) as invincibly as possible. We developed the project for a class of seventh grader children we taught in 1968-69 at the Muzzey Junior High School in Lexington, Massachusetts. This was the longest programming project these children had encountered, and our intention was to give them a model of how to go about working under these conditions.


Uses of Technology to Enhance Education

Author[s]: Seymour Papert
Date: June 1973

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6213/AIM-298.pdf

Abstract: Section 1: Schematic outline of project and what we want. Hardly any intellectual content. Section 2: Statement of our goals in general terms. This statement is intended to have serious intellectual content but lacks meaty examples. Readers who find it too abstract for comfort might like to read at least part of #3 first. Section 3: A series fo extended examples intended to give more concrete substance to the generalities in #2. Section4: This is the real “proposal”. It sets out specifically a list of concrete “goals” on which we want to work in the immediate future. Appendix: Papers by Jeanne Bamberger, Marvin Minsky, Seymour Papert and Cynthia Solomon.


Proposal to NSF: An Evaluative Study of Modern Technology in Education

Author[s]: Seymour A. Papert
Date: June 1976

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6248/AIM-371.pdf

Abstract: This proposal to the NSF describes a new phase of research planned in LOGO. Previous phases have concentrated on developing a conceptual superstructure (theories and teaching methods) and a material infra- structure (hardware and software) for a new style of using computers in education. We now want to test, to prove and to disseminate the results of our work, which will, of course, continue along the lines of the early phases. Part 1 is an overview of where we are and what we have to do next in the historical framework of the uses of computers for education. Parts 2 and 3 focus more on the specific content of the work planned for the next three years (1976-79).


Author[s]: Cynthia J. Solomon and Seymour Papert
Date: July 1976

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6252/AIM-375.pdf

Abstract: This paper explores some important issues with regard to using computers in education. It probes into the question of what programming ideas and projects will engage young children. In particular, a seven year old child’s involvement in turtle graphics is presented as a case study.


Assessment and Documentation of a Children’s Computer Laboratory

Author[s]: Seymour Papert and Daniel H. Watt
Date: September 1977

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6286/AIM-460.pdf

Abstract: This research will thoroughly document the experiences of a small number of 5th grade children in an elementary school computer laboratory, using LOGO, an advanced computer language designed for children. Four groups of four children will be taught a 10-week LOGO course. Detailed anecdotal records will be kept, and observers will note the development of the children’s computer programming skills, and the acquisition of knowledge in the areas of mathematics, science, and language, and of cognitive strategies and attitudinal changes which transfer beyond the specific subject matter studied.


Information Prosthetics for the Handicapped

Author[s]: Seymour A. Papert and Sylvia Weir
Date: September 1978

PDF Download: https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/6308/AIM-496.pdf

Abstract: In this proposal we describe a technological step towards the realization of INFORMATION PROSTHETICS. Our primary focus is on using rather than making the technology. Specifically, our goal is to transpose for the use of cerebral-palsied children a computer- based learning environment we have developed, and to study in this environment a series of issues in developmental psychology, in the psychology of learning, in psycho-diagnostic techniques and in methods of instruction.</div>

Back to Books and Papers Page

Back to Home Page