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Injured High-Tech Pioneer Seymour Papert Tries To Learn Again

The inventor of Logo, the children's programming language, has been gradually improving, although his speech is sometimes garbled and he often needs a wheelchair and a walker.
Seymour A. Papert, the visionary former MIT professor and developer of high tech tools and toys for children, has found a new subject for his discoveries -- Seymour A. Papert.

The 80-year-old was injured when he was struck by a motorbike in Vietnam in late 2006. He has been struggling ever since to recover from the brain injury that resulted from the accident.

It is somewhat ironic that the fabled artificial intelligence and self-learning pioneer is now engaged in teaching himself to start over again. His wife, Suzanne Massie, told the Boston Globe recently that Papert is "a constant learner" and that he has been gradually improving, although his speech is sometimes garbled and he often needs a wheelchair and a walker.

The inventor is known for developing Logo, the children's programming language, as well as LEGO Mindstorms. His book, "Mindstorms: Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas," is a classic. On his desk at his home in Maine is a laptop produced by the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) program, which he played a key role in developing.

Papert had been in Vietnam to deliver the keynote address at a meeting of the International Commission on Mathematical Instruction; he was struck by the motorbike shortly after delivering his speech. According to colleagues at the time, Papert had shown some interest in Hanoi's chaotic traffic as a possible example of "emergent behavior" theories in which large groups (motorbike riders, for example) follow simple rules without a central leader, but spontaneously develop solutions.

According to a Papert Web site, the mathematics conference was poorly organized and attendees had to dodge motorbikes to cross a six-lane highway to get to the conference site.

After the accident, Papert lay in a coma in a Hanoi hospital for days before being airlifted to the United States, where he was hospitalized for several months. Gradually, he improved to the point of being able to go to his home in Maine where caregivers and old friends and colleagues have been working to help him relearn.

With his care costing some $15,000 a month and his Medicare coverage expended, Papert's friends and former colleagues have established the Seymour Papert Recovery Fund to help defray some of Papert's learning and medical expenses.

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Brian T. Horowitz, Contributing Reporter
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Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing