``Children are human too!'' | | MIT News

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Professor Hal Abelson has dedicated his career to making information technology more accessible to all and empowering people, especially children, through computer science. However, his storied career in computer science began when Abelson came to his MIT in 1969 to pursue his interest in mathematics.

“I want to remind my students that they don’t have to know what they’re going to do for the rest of their lives,” says Abelson. “I get a lot of emails from high school students asking me what to study. I say, ‘You should try things that don’t even exist yet.'”

Today, Abelson’s work is focused on empowering children by democratizing access to computer science and demonstrating that through the power of technology, we can impact communities. Throughout his career, Abelson has played a key role in numerous educational technology initiatives at MIT, including MIT OpenCourseWare and his DSpace, and has served as co-chair of the MIT Educational Technology Council. He is also the founder of Creative Commons, Public Knowledge, and the Free Software Foundation.

Today, his App Inventor platform, which allows adults and children to create their own mobile phone applications, has over one million active users.

“Making education openly accessible, both content and tools, may seem like a commonplace idea now, but until Hal Abelson did it, it was really unthinkable,” said Fred Fort. Sanjay Salma, mechanical engineering professor and former vice president of Flowers and Daniel Fort Flowers, president of open learning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said, “Today, millions of students have received the gift of learning with computers and smartphones.” But they may never realize that it all started with an incredibly creative and courageous break with the past.Thank you, Hal!”

When smartphones started hitting the market in 2008, Abelson was on an extended hiatus at Google. Inspired by the potential of these powerful yet small and personalized computing devices, he creates a platform that enables children and adults with no scientific background to create mobile phone applications. I decided to. When Abelson was in the lab of the late Professor Emeritus Seymour Papert, he and his colleagues played a game of giving children access to smaller, more personalized, and more affordable computers. I remember dreaming about the possibility of changing.

When Abelson came up with the idea for the App Inventor platform, he recalls thinking: Wouldn’t it be cool if kids could actually program these phones?”

Abelson’s work, which aims to democratize access to computing, draws heavily on his early days as a graduate student at MIT in the late 1960s and 1970s.

Luckily, when he entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Abelson ran into a high school friend during a student protest and was encouraged to check out the AI ​​Lab (the predecessor of the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory). rice field. There Abelson met Papert, a pioneering computer scientist known for his views that computing could be used as a framework for education. Abelson had just heard Papert talk about his vision, so Abelson jumped at the chance to work with his Papert.

While working as a researcher in Papert’s lab, Abelson worked on Logo, the first programming language for children, that allowed users to program turtle movements. Beginning in 1981, Abelson directed the first implementation of Logo for Apple computers, making the programming language widely available on personal computers.

After graduating from MIT, Abelson became an instructor in MIT’s mathematics department, assisted in computer science courses taught by the late Robert Fano, professor emeritus, and continued his research at Papert. At the end of his semester, Fano emphasized to his students that computer programs and systems are really about communication between people. This was his 1970s radical concept and one that Abelson took to heart.

Computing as a means of enabling human communication was a key concept that Abelson and Gerald Sussman, professors of electrical engineering at Panasonic, used to develop the course “Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs.” Through the publication of popular companion texts and lecture videos, the course is widely considered to have influenced computer science curricula around the world.

While continuing his work as a computer science researcher and educator, Abelson remained focused on finding new ways to improve access to information technology. computer science.

Today, the App Inventory has grown significantly, with attendees exploring everything from tools that help people reduce their carbon footprint to apps aimed at improving mental agility and mental health and wellness. creating. Abelson says that giving young people the tools to create meaningful technology can lead to amazing inventions. For example, primary school students in Hong Kong developed an app aimed at helping older adults with dementia, providing location and other services to users when they need help. What makes the app stand out, Abelson said, is that it uses the recorded voices of family members to deliver when a user requires voice instructions. This is an example of a unique perspective that children can provide when creating calculators.

Abelson and his colleagues are currently planning the next phase of the App Inventor platform. This includes building a foundation that not only provides students and educators with the tools to create his mobile apps, but also focuses on an extensive K-12 curriculum and a more personalized one. included. A tool aimed at helping a teacher use his App Inventor platform in the classroom.

Abelson explains that the key concept behind App Inventor is an idea called Compute Actions. “Computational behavior is more than just computational thinking, it is the actual realization that someone can use computational tools to do something that affects their lives and the lives of their families.”

In the future, Abelson also hopes to help children get their hands on AI. He wants children all over the world to experiment and use AI technology, just as he helped design the experiments that would eventually go on board his NASA space mission. I envision a future where

“Part of democratizing access to computing, well, is realizing that even kids can do it. And even kids can do serious things. It’s a department, and that’s what we want the App Inventor Foundation to be involved in,” says Abelson. “We believe that by making our information infrastructure participatory, we can enable children to participate. Children are humans too!”

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