100 World Class South Africans: Seymour Papert

2013-06-07 12:00

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Computer wizard

Pretoria-born Seymour Papert has always loved two (often incompatible) things: mathematics and children.

‘The idea is simple,’ he said in the 60s, when the Wits graduate was a pioneering computer programmer at MIT, ‘let a child learn maths by speaking in maths about things that really matter to him.’

Today, Papert is a leading mind in artificial intelligence (he co-founded MIT’s AI Lab and Media Lab).

He invented a robot called the Logo turtle, which enabled kids to problem-solve and be creative using a computer.

It was his technology that put built-in computation into toys.

A winner of multiple awards, including the Marconi Prize, his work has influenced other seminal findings in artificial intelligence.

Papert predicted the day when kids would use a PC in class; then, people called it far-fetched.

Today, his One Laptop One Child initiative is supplying them in remote places like Rwanda and Nicaragua.

In Hanoi in 2006, he was hit by a motorbike on a busy street (ironically after presenting a computer model to deal with traffic).

Papert’s rehabilitation – using the very principles he developed – has him almost fully recovered.

And he’s still making numbers work for him: a leap year baby, he claims he’s only 22. You do the maths!

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