The Logo programming language was created by researchers at MIT's AI Lab. Its post-1980s use has been predominately in the educational field, but is this what the language was originally designed for?

The PDP-11 assembly contains numerous references to a "real turtle" and a "display turtle". Since tortoises, an analogue precursor to turtles, were originally developed as a demonstration on cognition, the MIT AI Lab might've wanted to explore (potentially more powerful) digital implementations – was this what the language was originally designed for?

Or was it something else?

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    By 'tortoise' are you referring to the sort of thing that William Grey Walter built? – another-dave Sep 21 at 21:48
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    @another-dave Yes. – wizzwizz4 Sep 21 at 21:49
  • I had the same though while looking at submissions on Code Golf. – JL2210 Sep 22 at 16:02

LOGO was intimately tied up with research into educational methods, and in teaching children how to use computers.

The project proposal by Seymour Papert mentions "research on children's thinking and elementary education".

Further LOGO memos are found here.

The question remains is, is this what the language was "originally" for, or was the language co-opted for the educational research project?

My reading of this page on the history of LOGO says that it's been intended as an educational tool all along, but there's still some wiggle-room in interpretation.

Edited to add: this page at the MIT Media Lab in memory of Papert says that "Papert came up with the idea for Logo, the first programming language for children". Assuming it to be accurate, and since it has the air of an 'official' posting it probably is, that seems to answer the question.


According to Wikipedia: Logo, second paragraph fragment

The language was conceived to teach concepts of programming related to Lisp and only later to enable what Papert called "body-syntonic reasoning", where students could understand, predict, and reason about the turtle's motion by imagining what they would do if they were the turtle.

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    Agreed - the way I was taught about it (back in the dark ages) was that it was expressly intended for teaching programming concepts to children. – another-dave Sep 21 at 21:23
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    With no citation, contradicted by the first paragraph of the "History" section which (ambiguously) posits AI, logic and "a mathematical land where children could play with words and sentences" as goals. I'm looking for answers with citations or authority, since I can't readily identify speculation / apocrypha. – wizzwizz4 Sep 21 at 21:24
  • @another-dave me too indeed ... – Michel Keijzers Sep 21 at 22:33
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    I agree with wizzwizz here. That citation-less wikipedia entry seems contradicted by the project proposal §3.a.1, "...a version of LOGO extended to provide full list structure..." (emph. mine); teaching "concepts of programming related to Lisp" without "full list structure" seems odd to me, at best, especially since simply doing this in Lisp (or a stripped-down, simplified version of it) seems the easiest way to handle this. – Curt J. Sampson Sep 22 at 6:32
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    Actually, on a closer reading there may not be a contradiction here, if one reads "concepts of programming related to Lisp" as a poorly worded attempt to say, "concepts related to the kinds of things often done in Lisp at the time." In other words, though the turtle is (sadly) all that anybody thinks about now when they hear "Logo," it was a later addition and Logo was designed to teach children non-turtle things at the start. A question making this argument would get a vote from me. – Curt J. Sampson Sep 26 at 1:41

Seymour Papert was a developmental psychologist, and in the early days of computers had lots of interesting ideas about how children might be taught using them. His work's online if you're interested.

The "real" turtle wasn't like the autonomous robot "tortoise", it was simply a plotter on wheels. A domed robot with 2 large wheels, one per side, that could pivot in place and go forward and backward. Early computers didn't have bitmapped graphical displays, not for a long time, so the early Logo turtles were physical.

  • The PDP-6 had a graphic display option, and that oprion was on the PDP-6 at project MAC in the mid 1960s. It may not have been bit mapped, but it could still have been used. – Walter Mitty Sep 22 at 18:26
  • @WalterMitty Indeed, one of the first applications on the early Unix implementation at Bell Labs was the "Space War" video game. – Barmar Sep 23 at 15:05
  • @Barmar Space War - Yee Ha. Brings back memories. Ran on a PDP12 (a PDP8 variant with engineering I/O. ) Probably 1973 ish. – Russell McMahon Sep 23 at 15:22
  • I played Spacewar on a PDP-1 in my freshman year. Way, way back. – Walter Mitty Sep 23 at 15:34

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