Thursday, January 04, 2007

Flowers for Seymour

Particularly since Santa Claus brought my ten-year-old a Lego Mindstorms robot, I've been thinking about Seymour Papert, the pioneer in artificial intelligence and advocate for the One Laptop per Child Project, who first argued for creating opportunities for children to program computers rather than merely having computers program children, as has been much more commonly done by otherwise well-meaning technologists.

Papert suffered a head injury from a motorbike accident in Vietnam, which happened while he was crossing a busy street as a pedestrian, and he is apparently still seriously ill. Well-wishers can send him virtual flowers via the photo-sharing program Flickr or sign an e-card to share a collective hope that he will get well soon.

You can read an excerpt from Papert's seminal essay, Mindstorms: Children, Computers, and Powerful Ideas in the excellent New Media Reader compiled by Virtualpolitik conference buddies Noah Wardrip-Fruin and Nick Montfort or check out the book's foreward on his site.

Jeff Han has argued that supposedly more intuitive sensory input technology will be more important for the developing world than Negroponte's $100 laptop (or $150 laptop now that it is going into production), and some large countries like India have declined to support the one laptop program, but I like the design aesthetic that Papert is supporting with his advocacy efforts, and I thought that the good digital design of his well-wishers also merits a detour to their sites.

Furthermore, Papert's work in AI may one day have political implications for digital culture. According to the BBC, the British Government's Horizon Scanning Centre has formulated a provisional "bill of rights" for sentient robots and other computerized beings.

Update: After posting this item, I noticed yet another example of how user-generated content sharing programs like Flickr can function as social media. By coincidence, right after I uploaded this bouquet of virtual flowers for Papert, electronic learning community expert Amy Bruckman, who I knew in college, uploaded this one.

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Blogger Lupton said...

I loved reading about the design features of the hundred dollar laptop -- thanks for sharing this link. The idea of a homepage that puts the child-user at the center of a set of relationships, as well as the rezoning of the opening screen from "desktop" to "neighborhood," are great ideas. The reporter refers to the circular scheme as runic. Did anyone say iPod?

7:55 AM  

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