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The MIT Roots of Google

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Hal Abelson

Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering.


In July, Google released a trial version of new software, called the Google App Inventor, intended to let people with no previous programming experience design applications for phones that use Google’s Android operating system. The software has provoked much commentary in the technology press, and Google has been trumpeting it as a way to give people direct control of their own phones. But App Inventor is the latest outgrowth of a tradition of MIT research that dates back at least 40 years.

The App Inventor project was led by Hal Abelson, the Class of 1922 Professor of Computer Science and Engineering, who spent a sabbatical year at Google as a visiting professor. Instead of having to write traditional computer code, users of App Inventor can create programs by snapping together virtual, color-coded instruction "blocks." For instance, to add a button to an application, the user would drag the button block into App Inventor’s workspace window and determine the button’s visual properties by selecting from pull-down menus. Then, to determine what the button will do, the user would snap a block that defines a function—like emitting a noise, or making a phone call, or changing the screen’s background color—into the button block.

From MIT News Office
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