Hal Abelson Keynote: MIT App Inventor Summit 2016

summit2016Every once in a while I read or hear something that literally makes me sit up and take notice. Hal’s keynote was one of those events. In a few brief moments, he sketched the development of the relationship between children and the computer. He was a participant and eyewitness from the late 60’s, a colleague of Seymour Papert’s, and a creator of some of the early incarnations of the Logo programming language.

Those of us in this field of computer science, especially those who teach it to children, owe a huge debt of gratitude to these pioneers. I also got to meet another giant in this field, Cynthia Solomon, another colleague of Papert and Marvin Minsky. What Hal did in 15 minutes was to trace the development of the connection between children and computers from the earliest days to the present. But it was no mere historical journey. He highlighted recent innovations, like the Internet of Things and physical computing, as well as mobile computing. Now the tools for creation in these areas are in the hands of young people, App Inventor being a very accessible drag and drop programming interface for mobile apps.

Young people of all ages now have in their pockets tools which they can use to shape the world in which they live. We saw one fabulous example of young girls in Moldova tracking water quality and then crowdsourcing the results. Present at the Summit were many young creators. I was particularly impressed with a group of 6 12-year-olds who created an app for autistic children, their parents, and their teachers. It was astonishing in its design and usability.

Hal not only traced the past, but laid out the present landscape of computing and children, and he pointed the way forward. We have truly entered into the next phase. It was such a thrill to be at MIT where so much of this started. I feel truly honored to be a part of this!

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