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?

  • 3
    By 'tortoise' are you referring to the sort of thing that William Grey Walter built?
    – dave
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 21:48
  • 2
    @another-dave Yes.
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 21:49
  • I had the same though while looking at submissions on Code Golf.
    – S.S. Anne
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 16:02

4 Answers 4


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.

  • 2
    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.
    – dave
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 21:23
  • 4
    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
    Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 21:24
  • @another-dave me too indeed ... Commented Sep 21, 2019 at 22:33
  • 2
    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.
    – cjs
    Commented Sep 22, 2019 at 6:32
  • 1
    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.
    – cjs
    Commented Sep 26, 2019 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. Commented Sep 22, 2019 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
    Commented Sep 23, 2019 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. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 15:22
  • I played Spacewar on a PDP-1 in my freshman year. Way, way back. Commented Sep 23, 2019 at 15:34
  • @WalterMitty, yes the PDP-6 display was used. It was shared between the AI PDP-6 and PDP-10. Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 19:11

I have something to add. It's not exactly an answer, but it's too long for a comment.

You are linking to 11Logo (which I put on GitHub, courtesy of CSAIL), but this wasn't the first version of Logo. It was first implemented on PDP-1 at BBN, and later updated for a PDP-10.

The PDP-10 version was moved to MIT (the files still have a BBN copyright notice), where it served as a reference for future implementations. Next, around 1971, were Lisp Logo and 11Logo, close in time. In the second half of the 70s came Pascal Logo which inspired TI Logo. And slightly later Apple Logo. There was an abortive attempt at an Atari Logo.

A "floor turtle" (which is what they called the robot) was made at BBN. I don't know if they also had a display turtle. At MIT there was first the big yellow turtle for PDP-10 Logo, and later a smaller transparent half dome version. I have the impression the MIT display turtle came after the floor turtle. There was also a Nova minicomputer involved, which could drive several smaller displays. These are visible in some Logo film footage.

My references for this are from files backed up from the MIT-AI PDP-10, and from email conversations with Logo people.

  • Do you happen to have a public copy of those files anywhere?
    – wizzwizz4
    Commented Jan 16, 2020 at 21:22
  • 2
    @wizzwizz4, everything that can be public, is. It's either in the "its" repository, or in "its-vault". I'm working on making more files public. Commented Jan 17, 2020 at 5:59

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