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  • This week visionary educator and mathematician Seymour Papert passed away at the age of 88. In 1969 he coauthored Perceptrons: An Introduction to Computational Geometry (with Marvin Minsky), which has become a classic text on artificial intelligence. Beginning in the 1980s he published books on children, technology, and learning. In this post, Yasmin Kafai, for whom Dr. Papert served as a mentor and thesis advisor, pays tribute to his work and enduring legacy. Yasmin Kafai is coauthor of Connected Code (dedicated to Seymour Papert) and the forthcoming Connected Gaming.

    After writing his groundbreaking ideas on children, computers, and learning in Mindstorms: Children, Computers, And Powerful Ideas, Seymour Papert started working on the sequel. The years following the 1980 publication were heady times where many of the ideas previously kept under lock and key in the laboratory were moving out into the world: an inner-city elementary school in Boston called Project Headlight demonstrated how teachers and students could engage with computers by making their own software games, a robotics kit with which children could accessorize their Lego blocks with motors and sensors at home and in school developed at the MIT Media Lab became available to the public, and a gigantic Walk-Through Computer at the Computer History Museum made tangible the inner workings of the new machine. Seymour's vision in Mindstorms was becoming reality.

    Posted at 11:00 am on Wed, 03 Aug 2016 in in memoriam
  • As the polls tighten between presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, many are left wondering where the bulwark of Trump’s support comes from. A recent New York Times article entitled “The One Demographic That Is Hurting Hillary Clinton” shows that Trump has a large lead among less-educated white voters and white working-class voters. To a casual observer it may seem strange that the latter group is the main support behind the GOP nominee, given that many of his brand products are made overseas, thus implying that Trump’s businesses are likely benefitting from free trade policies and cheap foreign labor. Yet despite this, Trump’s anti-immigration and anti-free trade message seems to be resonating with this demographic. Why is this? Didier Eribon reflected upon this same apparent contradiction in France in Returning to Reims, published in English translation by Semiotexte.

    Posted at 09:00 am on Tue, 02 Aug 2016 in current affairs, Semiotexte
  • On July 20, 1969 workers called in sick and children stayed home from school. Crowds gathered around televisions in department store windows to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Digital Apollo: Human and Machine in Spaceflight by David Mindell examines the design and execution of each of the six Apollo moon landings, drawing on transcripts and data telemetry from the flights, astronaut interviews, and NASA’s extensive archives. In honor of the anniversary of the first moon landing, the following is an excerpt from Digital Apollo that describes the high tension of that fateful day.

    On a July day in 1969, after a silent trip around the far side of the moon, the two Apollo spacecraft reappeared out of the shadows and reestablished contact with earth. The command and service module (CSM) (sometimes simply ‘‘command module’’) was now the mother ship, the capsule and its supplies that would carry the astronauts home. The CSM continued to orbit the moon, with astronaut Michael Collins alone in the capsule. ‘‘Listen, babe,’’ Collins reported to ground controllers at NASA in Houston, ‘‘everything’s going just swimmingly. Beautiful.’’ His two colleagues Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘‘Buzz’’ Aldrin had just separated the other spacecraft, the fragile, spidery lunar module (LM, pronounced ‘‘lem’’), nicknamed Eagle, from the command module. This odd, aluminum balloon, packed with instruments and a few engines, would carry the two men down to the lunar surface.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Wed, 20 Jul 2016 in history, science, technology
  • Drones are changing the conduct of war. Advocates say that drones are more precise than conventional bombers, allowing warfare with minimal civilian deaths while keeping American pilots out of harm’s way. Critics say that drones are cowardly and that they often kill innocent civilians while terrorizing entire villages on the ground. In Drone: Remote Control Warfare, Hugh Gusterson looks at the paradoxical mix of closeness and distance involved in remote killing: is it easier than killing someone on the physical battlefield if you have to watch onscreen? Hugh Gusterson discusses his new book.

    How has the use of military drones altered the way that war is conducted?

    Traditional definitions of war assume combatants on either side who can kill one another. In drone warfare, one side is now physically absent from the field of combat. This is why some people have said drone warfare is more like hunting than war.

    Further, democratically elected leaders have always been aware of a certain risk in going to war: if too many of their own citizens come home in body bags, the country may turn against them (as happened to Presidents Johnson, Nixon, and George W. Bush). But drone warfare, by sparing us Americans in body bags, offers the possibility of indefinite war without victory, but with very little political cost at home.

    Posted at 01:30 pm on Mon, 18 Jul 2016 in anthropology, current affairs, technology
  • Happy #WorldEmojiDay! We are celebrating with a passage from Book from the Ground by Chinese artist Xu Bing. A book without words, it recounts a day in the life of an office worker, told completely in the symbols, icons, and logos of modern life.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Sun, 17 Jul 2016 in art
  • Back in May, ahead of the referendum on whether Britain should remain part of the European Union or leave, Guy Edwards penned an op-ed in the Boston Globe explaining why Brexit would make realizing climate change cooperation significantly tougher. In the wake of the Brexit vote, he reflects on what's next for Europe. Guy Edwards is coauthor of A Fragmented Continent.

    Despite the vote in favor of Brexit, I feel resolutely European. Our generation grew up as the Cold War drew to a close and the Berlin Wall came down. Our continent shares common values and ideals: freedom, equality, democracy, multilateralism, and the international rule of law. Our generation has for the most part embraced the freedom of travel to live, work and study across the continent; reinforcing our love and respect for each other's cultures.

    Posted at 01:35 pm on Mon, 11 Jul 2016 in environment, politics
  • As we observe Independence Day in the United States, we look back at the nation's history. William Hogeland's Inventing American History is a call to make the celebration of America’s past more honest. Hogeland argues that only when we can ground our public history in the gritty events of the day, embracing its contradictions and difficulties, will we be able to learn from it. In the following excerpt, he takes readers on a tour of the U.S.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Mon, 04 Jul 2016 in history
  • We’re back with another installment of Spotlight on Science. Dr. Beatrice A. Golomb (University of California, San Diego) talks about her research into how the chemical compound Coenzyme Q10 could benefit Gulf War veterans suffering from Gulf War Illness (GWI). Her article is among the most popular from the journal Neural Computation over the last year, according to Altmetric Explorer. Read the article for free on our SOS page.

    How did you first become familiar with Gulf War Illness (GWI)? Has there been a significant increase recently in awareness of this condition?

    I first heard about the condition in the mid-1990s, around the time reports came out on the condition from the Presidential Advisory Committee (PAC) and Institute of Medicine (IOM). I was immediately concerned that the demands for evidence differed radically for postulated physiological vs. psychological causes. Where postulated “organic” (physiological) causes were considered, the bar was high: absence of evidence for a causal role was construed as evidence of absence of a role. Moreover, they hadn’t looked hard for evidence—e.g. omitting consideration of animal studies, the primary setting in which controlled exposure to toxins is allowed. In contrast, for hypothesized stress and psychological causes, mere suggestion of a role was deemed sufficient proof. No evidence was required that those with more stress were more likely to become ill. No demands were made for evidence that people in other historical settings with similar psychological stress, without the chemical stress, had become similarly ill, etc.*

    Posted at 09:45 am on Thu, 30 Jun 2016 in journals, science
  • Recently rereleased by Semiotext(e), Cruising the Movies, is an acerbic, queer-eye take on the greats and the not-so-greats of Hollywood’s Golden Age. Written by Boyd McDonald from a single room occupancy in gritty 1980s New York, the book takes no prisoners in its reviews of famous films from a bygone era. Some of McDonald’s targets include the Reagans, Steve McQueen, and Gary Cooper, throwing shady before it was even a thing. Cruising the Movies with its quick wit and DIY aesthetic reads as a sort of punk-poetry for the then underground gay scene. In our concluding Pride Month installment, William E. Jones, who wrote the introduction to his book, reflects on Boyd McDonald’s importance to a culture that is vastly underrepresented in history.

    Boyd McDonald (1925–1993) was the main creative force behind one of the most distinctive underground publications, Straight to Hell, the first queer zine, founded in 1973. Self-published and crude, Straight to Hell’s sense of urgency was as strong as its contempt for authority. It was devoted to publishing its readers’ explicit sex stories ranging from the innocent to the raunchy, with emphasis on the latter, and McDonald interspersed these with a running commentary on the hypocrisy and corruption of the American political establishment. Nothing was sacred; the man who assembled this material didn’t give a damn about any recognized standard of taste.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Fri, 24 Jun 2016 in humanities, literature & poetry
  • In honor of Alan Turing's 104th birthday Chris Bernhardt, author of Turing's Vision: The Birth of Computer Science, discusses the pioneer's groundbreaking research paper and how it shaped modern computing.

    On June 23, 1912, one of the founders of computer science, Alan Turing was born. He is now famous, having been portrayed on stage by Derek Jacobi and in film by Benedict Cumberbatch. He is well known for his work during the Second World War on code breaking that was pivotal in the Allied powers’ victory, and also for his test to determine whether human intelligence is distinguishable from that of machine intelligence. We all know of his arrest and prosecution for being gay, and for the chemical castration that followed, and we know of his tragic death by cyanide poisoning. But not many people outside of computer science are aware of the groundbreaking paper he published in 1936.

    Posted at 08:00 am on Thu, 23 Jun 2016 in computer science, math
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Books, news, and ideas from MIT Press

The MIT PressLog is the official blog of MIT Press. Founded in 2005, the Log chronicles news about MIT Press authors and books. The MIT PressLog also serves as forum for our authors to discuss issues related to their books and scholarship. Views expressed by guest contributors to the blog do not necessarily represent those of MIT Press.