Seymour Papert

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Seymour Papert
Seymour Papert in 2006
(before his serious accident)
Born (1928-02-29) February 29, 1928 (age 86)
Pretoria, South Africa
Residence United States
Nationality American
Fields Cognitive science
Computer science
Institutions Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Alma mater University of the Witwatersrand
Cambridge University
University of Geneva
Doctoral students Idit Harel Caperton
Carl Hewitt
Mitchel Resnick
David Williamson Shaffer
Gerald Jay Sussman
Terry Winograd
Known for Artificial intelligence
Logo programming language

Seymour Aubrey Papert (born February 29, 1928) is an MIT mathematician, computer scientist, and educator. He is one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence, as well as an inventor of the Logo programming language.

Early years and education[edit]

Papert attended the University of the Witwatersrand, receiving a CA in 1949 and a PhD in mathematics in 1952. He then went on to receive another PhD, also in mathematics, at Cambridge University in 1959, where he was supervised by Frank Smithies.[1] He was a leading figure in the revolutionary socialist circle around Socialist Review while living in London in the 1950s.[2]


Papert worked as a researcher in a variety of places, including St. John's College, Cambridge, the Henri Poincaré Institute at the University of Paris, the University of Geneva and the National Physical Laboratory in London before becoming a research associate at MIT in 1963.[1] He held this position until 1967, when he became professor of applied math and director of the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, until 1981; he also served as Cecil and Ida Green professor of education at MIT from 1974-1981.[1]

Research and theories[edit]

Papert worked on learning theories, and is known for focusing on the impact of new technologies on learning in general, and in schools as learning organizations in particular.


At MIT, Papert went on to create the Epistemology and Learning Research Group at the MIT Architecture Machine Group which later became the MIT Media Lab.[3] Here, he was the developer of a theory on learning called constructionism, built upon the work of Jean Piaget in Constructivism learning theories. Papert had worked with Jean Piaget at the University of Geneva from 1958 to 1963[4] and is one of Piaget's protégés; Piaget himself once said that "no one understands my ideas as well as Papert".[citation needed] Papert has rethought how schools should work, based on these theories of learning.


Papert used Piaget's work in his development of the Logo programming language while at MIT. He created Logo as a tool to improve the way children think and solve the problems. A small mobile robot called the "Logo Turtle" was developed, and children were shown how to use it to solve simple problems in an environment of play. A main purpose of the Logo Foundation research group is to strengthen the ability to learn knowledge. Papert insists a simple language or program that children can learn—like Logo—can also have advanced functionality for expert users.

Other work[edit]

As part of his work with technology, Papert has been a proponent of the Knowledge Machine. He was one of the principals for the One Laptop Per Child initiative to manufacture and distribute The Children's Machine in developing nations.

Papert has also collaborated with Lego on their Logo-programmable Lego Mindstorms robotics kits.

Influence and awards[edit]

Papert's work has been used by other researchers in the fields of education and computer science. He influenced the work of Uri Wilensky in the design of NetLogo and collaborated with him on the study of knowledge restructurations, as well as the work of Andrea diSessa and the development of "dynaturtles". In 1981, Papert along with several others in the Logo group at MIT, started Logo Computer Systems Inc. (LCSI), of which he was Board Chair for over 20 years. Working with LCSI, Papert designed a number of award-winning programs, including LogoWriter[5] and Lego/Logo (marketed as Lego Mindstorms). He also influenced the research of Idit Harel Caperton, coauthoring articles and the book Constructionism, and chairing the advisory board of the company MaMaMedia. He also influenced Alan Kay and the Dynabook concept, and worked with Kay on various projects.

Papert won a Guggenheim fellowship in 1980, a Marconi International fellowship in 1981,[6] the Software Publishers Association Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, and the Smithsonian Award from Computerworld in 1997.[7] Papert has been called by Marvin Minsky "the greatest living mathematics educator".[8]

Personal life[edit]

Papert's third wife was MIT professor Sherry Turkle, and together they wrote the influential paper "Epistemological Pluralism and the Revaluation of the Concrete". [9]

Papert is married to Suzanne Massie Papert, who is a Russian scholar and author of Pavlovsk, Life of a Russian Palace and Land of the Firebird.[10]

Accident in Hanoi[edit]

While attending the 17th ICMI Study conference in Hanoi, Papert (then aged 78) was crossing a road near his hotel, on Tuesday December 5, 2006, with his colleague and former student, Uri Wilensky. They had crossed most of the way to the other side when Papert was struck by a motorcycle.[citation needed]

Papert underwent emergency brain surgery at the French Hospital of Hanoi on Wednesday December 6 to remove the blood clot that had formed. By the evening of Tuesday December 12, he was in stable but critical condition. Experts feared a deterioration if a MEDEVAC could not be flown as quickly as possible to either Paris or Boston, the only two hospital locations with the necessary expertise for the much needed specialist neuro-intensive care. There was at the time no mission compliant, long range Ambulance ICU Jet anywhere available, except for one of four Swiss Air Ambulance Challenger Jets, based half way around the globe at the REGA HQ, Zurich International Airport in Switzerland.[11]

On December 16, 2006 he was transferred by the highly specialized, ICU equipped, Swiss Air Ambulance Bombardier Challenger Jet This transfer reportedly was made possible and organized by the Swiss banker Pascal Najadi, who, as an active patron of the REGA Swiss Air Ambulance service, was able to convince REGA Flight Operations over the phone from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to swiftly approve the decision to fly without payment guarantees. They were able to assemble within 48 hours the necessary flight plan, specialized doctors, logistics and Vietnam airspace (Northern Sector) entry clearances for the Jet to take off from Zurich HQ, via Lahore to Hanoi. From there, they proceeded with the critically ill Papert in full ICU care of specialized Swiss doctors and immediate family on board, via Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Edmonton to Boston, Massachusetts, where the plane was met by US Customs (with the help of Senator John Kerry). Papert was transferred straight from the tarmac to the Mass General Hospital's neuro-intensive care unit, attended by Dr. William Curry, Dr. Lee Schwam, and Dr. Matsuza for immediate and critical specialist care.[citation needed]

The flight crew of the Swiss Ambulance Challenger Jet had to pay special attention to make ultra soft landings at fuel stops and follow special climb step procedures so as not to harm the patient's critical condition during the long-haul transfer flight. Doctors concluded that the patient was extremely stable during the flight thanks in large part to the careful handling of the flight operation. The American Hospital in Paris was the only other facility in the world equipped for the critical specialized neuro-intensive care needed in Papert's case, but Boston was chosen due to its proximity to his home in Maine.

On January 23, 2007 Papert was transferred to a hospital in his home state of Maine. In March 2007, he suffered an attack of septicemia, which required treatment in the hospital until May. Another problem occurred in April, when he had to have a heart valve replaced because of the septicemia. As of 2008, he had fully recovered from the septicemia and heart operation, and could think clearly, walk "almost unaided", and communicate. However, he still had "some complicated speech problems" and continued to undergo extensive rehabilitation at home.[12]

To aid him in his recovery, Papert's rehabilitation team used some of the very principles of experiential, hands-on learning that he had pioneered.[13]

Selected bibliography[edit]


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Papert, Seymour A. in American Men and Women of Science, R.R. Bowker. (1998-99, 20th ed). p. 1056.
  2. ^ Jim Higgins: "More Years for the Locust: The Origins of the SWP" Published by IS Group, London, 1997. Chapter 5 page 1 "Another South African, Seymour Papert – a man of considerable talent ... was recruited by Kidron and, for a few years, he added considerably to the impact of Socialist Review. His review of John Strachey’s, at that time very influential book, Contemporary Capitalism, for example, is an excellent attack on Strachey and, incidentally, one of the better statements on the permanent arms economy." "'More Years for the Locus' reproduced in the Marxist Internet Archive"
  3. ^ Epistemology and Learning homepage
  4. ^ Papert page at MIT Media Lab
  5. ^ see this history
  6. ^ Marconi Foundation - the Marconi Fellows. Accessed March 28, 2009.
  7. ^ Henderson, Harry. 2003. A to Z of Computer Scientists. New York: Facts on File. p. 208.
  8. ^ From the cover of Mindstorms. (date needed).
  9. ^ Turkle, Sherry; Papert, Seymour (1992). "Epistemological Pluralism and Revaluation of the Concrete". Journal of Mathematical Behavior 11 (1). 
  10. ^ Suzanne Massie's website. Accessed April 19, 2009.
  11. ^ Megan Tench (2006-12-08). "Top MIT scientist injured in Vietnam". Boston Globe. 
  12. ^ (copy) (aka. the Seymour Papert Institute) (verified through the IRS as being a 501(c)3, as they claim)
  13. ^ Linda Matchan (2008-07-12). "In search of a beautiful mind". Boston Globe. Retrieved 2008-07-16. 

External links[edit]