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Tribute to John McCarthy

John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 – October 24, 2011)

American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. Recipient of the Turing Award in 1971.Inventor of LISP. Coined the term "Artificial Intelligence".

LISP Programming Language
The second oldest high-level programming language. Originally created as a practical mathematical notation for computer programs, it soon became the favored language amongst the artificial intelligence community, due to the ease with which AI programs could be read.

McCarthy published the design of LISP in a paper in Communications of the ACM in 1960, entitled "Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I". He showed that with a few simple operators and a notation for functions, one can build a Turing-complete language for algorithms.

McCarthy championed mathematical logic for Artificial Intelligence. In 1958, he setup the MIT Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with Marvin Minsky.
He was instrumental in the creation of time-sharing systems. He envisaged a time when we would have national grids, like water and electricity, which people could tap into for computer bandwidth.

He moved to Stanford and created SAIL (Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory), and for many years the two groups he had setup were friendly rivals as they went deeper and deeper into the field of AI.

McCarthy was passionate about AI. He believed it to be a goal of AI to solve real-world problems, like humans. And was disillusioned by the lack of ambition shown by researchers in the field. He compare the chess competitions between computers to geneticists designing fruit flies so they could race them in races.

This was a man who believed in technology and talked often about the sustainability of human actions. He genuinely believed that we could have material progress, while still not destroying ourselves in a stupid rage.

John McCarthy's Home Page
John McCarthy (1927 - 2011), Believer in Humanity

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