John McCarthy (computer scientist)

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John McCarthy (computer scientist)
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| birth_place = Boston, Massachusetts, U.S.2011249|4}}| death_place = Stanford, California, U.S.| field = Computer technology| work_institution = Stanford University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Dartmouth College, Princeton University| alma_mater = Princeton University, California Institute of Technology| doctoral_advisor = Solomon Lefschetz| doctoral_students = Ruzena BajcsyRamanathan V. GuhaBarbara LiskovRaj ReddyArtificial intelligence, Lisp (programming language)>Lisp, circumscription, situation calculusTuring Award (1971)Computer Pioneer Award (1985)IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1985)Kyoto Prize (1988)National Medal of Science (1990)Benjamin Franklin Medal (Franklin Institute)>Benjamin Franklin Medal (2003)}}John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 – October 24, 2011) was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. McCarthy was one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence.Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Jeffrey Mishlove He coined the term "artificial intelligence" (AI), developed the Lisp programming language family, significantly influenced the design of the ALGOL programming language, popularized timesharing, and was very influential in the early development of AI.McCarthy spent most his career at Stanford University.WEB, McCarthy, John, Professor John McCarthy,weblink, He received many accolades and honors, such as the 1971 Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI,WEB, John McCarthy – A.M. Turing Award Laureate,weblink, en, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize.

Early life and education

John McCarthy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1927, to an Irish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant mother,BOOK, Shasha, Dennis, Lazere, Cathy, 1998, Out of Their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists, Springer Publishing, Springer, 23,weblink 2016-02-27, 9780387982694, John Patrick and Ida (Glatt) McCarthy. The family was obliged to relocate frequently during the Great Depression, until McCarthy's father found work as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Los Angeles, California. His father came from the fishing village of Cromane in County Kerry, Ireland.WEB, Leading academic who coined the term 'artificial intelligence',weblink The Irish Times, 2016-01-28, en-US, His mother died in 1957.WEB, History of Computers and Computing, Birth of the modern computer, Software history, LISP of John McCarthy,weblink, 2016-01-28, McCarthy was exceptionally intelligent, and graduated from Belmont High School two years early.NEWS, Woo, Elaine, October 28, 2011, John McCarthy dies at 84; the father of artificial intelligence,weblink Los Angeles Times, McCarthy was accepted into Caltech in 1944.McCarthy showed an early aptitude for mathematics; during his teens he taught himself college mathematics by studying the textbooks used at the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). As a result, he was able to skip the first two years of mathematics at Caltech.JOURNAL, Hayes, Patrick J., Morgenstern, Leora, On John McCarthy's 80th Birthday, in Honor of his Contributions, AI Magazine, 28, 4, 93–102, Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence, 2007,weblink November 24, 2010, McCarthy was suspended from Caltech for failure to attend physical education courses.BOOK, Williams, Sam, Arguing A.I.: The Battle for Twenty-first-Century Science, March 5, 2002, AtRandom, 978-0812991802, He then served in the US Army and was readmitted, receiving a B.S. in mathematics in 1948.WEB,weblink A. M. Turing award: John McCarthy, United States – 1971, ACM, Lester Earnest, September 5, 2012, It was at Caltech that he attended a lecture by John von Neumann that inspired his future endeavors.McCarthy initially completed graduate studies at Caltech before moving to Princeton University. He received a Ph.D. in mathematics from the institution in 1951 as a student of Solomon Lefschetz.

Academic career

After short-term appointments at Princeton and Stanford University, McCarthy became an assistant professor at Dartmouth in 1955.A year later, McCarthy moved to MIT as a research fellow in the autumn of 1956.In 1962, McCarthy became a full professor at Stanford, where he remained until his retirement in 2000. By the end of his early days at MIT he was already affectionately referred to as "Uncle John" by his students.{{citation |url= |title=Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution |author=Steven Levy |page=34 |}}McCarthy championed mathematical logic for artificial intelligence.

Contributions in computer science

(File:John McCarthy (2314859532).jpg|thumb|McCarthy in 2008)John McCarthy is one of the "founding fathers" of artificial intelligence, together with Alan Turing, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, and Herbert A. Simon. McCarthy coined the term "artificial intelligence" in 1955, and organized the famous Dartmouth conference in Summer 1956. This conference started AI as a field.JOURNAL, Roberts, Jacob, Thinking Machines: The Search for Artificial Intelligence, Distillations, 2016, 2, 2, 14–23,weblink 20 March 2018, (Minsky later joined McCarthy at MIT in 1959.)In 1958, he proposed the advice taker, which inspired later work on question-answering and logic programming.John McCarthy invented Lisp in the late 1950s. Based on the lambda calculus, Lisp soon became the programming language of choice for AI applications after its publication in 1960.JOURNAL, Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, McCarthy, John, Communications of the ACM, 3, 4, 184–195, 10.1145/367177.367199, 1960,, In 1958, McCarthy served on an ACM Ad hoc Committee on Languages that became part of the committee that designed ALGOL 60. In August 1959 he proposed the use of recursion and conditional expressions, which became part of ALGOL.JOURNAL, McCarthy, John, August 1959, Letter to the editor, Communications of the ACM, 2, 8, 2–3, 10.1145/368405.1773349, Around 1959, he invented so-called "garbage collection" methods to solve problems in Lisp.WEB,weblink Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine, April 1960, Communications of the ACM, 3, 4, March 29, 2009, WEB,weblink Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine, Part I,weblink" title="">weblink October 4, 2013, November 24, 2013, He helped to motivate the creation of Project MAC at MIT when he worked there, and at Stanford University, he helped establish the Stanford AI Laboratory, for many years a friendly rival to Project MAC.McCarthy was instrumental in creation of three of the very earliest time-sharing systems (Compatible Time-Sharing System, BBN Time-Sharing System, and Dartmouth Time Sharing System). His colleague Lester Earnest told the Los Angeles Times: "The Internet would not have happened nearly as soon as it did except for the fact that John initiated the development of time-sharing systems. We keep inventing new names for time-sharing. It came to be called servers ... Now we call it cloud computing. That is still just time-sharing. John started it."In 1961, he was perhaps the first to suggest publicly the idea of utility computing, in a speech given to celebrate MIT's centennial: that computer time-sharing technology might result in a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity).BOOK, Architects of the Information Society, Thirty-Five Years of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT, Hal, Abelson, Simson, Garfinkel, 978-0-262-07196-3, MIT Press, 1999, 1,weblink Cambridge, This idea of a computer or information utility was very popular during the late 1960s, but faded by the mid-1990s. However, since 2000, the idea has resurfaced in new forms (see application service provider, grid computing, and cloud computing).In 1966, McCarthy and his team at Stanford wrote a computer program used to play a series of chess games with counterparts in the Soviet Union; McCarthy's team lost two games and drew two games (see Kotok-McCarthy).From 1978 to 1986, McCarthy developed the circumscription method of non-monotonic reasoning.In 1982 he seems to have originated the idea of the "space fountain", a type of tower extending into space and kept vertical by the outward force of a stream of pellets propelled from Earth along a sort of conveyor belt which returns the pellets to Earth (payloads would ride the conveyor belt upward).McCarthy, John (August 1, 1994). "Re: SPACE BRIDGE SHORT". Posting in Usenet newsgroup:

Other activities

McCarthy often commented on world affairs on the Usenet forums. Some of his ideas can be found in his sustainability Web page,WEB, McCarthy, John, February 4, 1995,weblink Progress and its sustainability,,weblink" title="">weblink October 4, 2013, November 24, 2013, which is "aimed at showing that human material progress is desirable and sustainable". McCarthy was a serious book reader, an optimist, and a staunch supporter of free speech. His best Usenet interaction is visible in rec.arts.books archives. And John actively attended SF Bay Area dinners in Palo Alto of r.a.b. readers called rab-fests. John went on to defend free speech criticism involving European ethnic jokes at Stanford.McCarthy saw the importance of mathematics and mathematics education. His Usenet .sig for years was, "He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense"; his license plate cover read, similarly, "Do the arithmetic or be doomed to talk nonsense."WEB,weblink$20who$20refuses$20to$20do$20arithmetic$20is$20doomed$20to$20talk$20nonsense%22, He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense, Usenet newsgroup sci.environment search, NEWS,weblink John McCarthy, 84, Dies; Computer Design Pioneer, October 26, 2011, The New York Times, He advised 30 PhD graduates.WEB,weblink April 21, 2012, Tree of John McCarthy students for the Computer History Exhibits,,weblink" title="">weblink December 9, 2013, November 24, 2013, His 2001 short story "The Robot and the Baby"WEB, McCarthy, John, June 28, 2001,weblink The Robot and the Baby,,weblink" title="">weblink October 4, 2013, November 24, 2013, farcically explored the question of whether robots should have (or simulate having) emotions, and anticipated aspects of Internet culture and social networking that have become increasingly prominent during ensuing decades.WEB,weblink The Death of TRUE Tech Innovators D. Ritchie & J. McCarthy – Yet the Death of Steve Jobs Overshadows All, Thomson, Cask J., October 26, 2011, WordsWithMeaning blog,

Personal life

McCarthy was married three times. His second wife was Vera Watson, a programmer and mountaineer who died in 1978 attempting to scale Annapurna I as part of an all-women expedition organised by Arlene Blum. He later married Carolyn Talcott, a computer scientist at Stanford and later SRI International.NEWS, John, Markoff, October 25, 2011, John McCarthy, 84, Dies; Computer Design Pioneer,weblink The New York Times, WEB, Biography of Carolyn Talcott,weblinkweblink" title="">weblink 2013-12-02, Stanford University, McCarthy considered himself an atheist.WEB, About John McCarthy,weblink Stanford University, February 1, 2013,weblink" title="">weblink October 4, 2013, WEB, McCarthy, John, Commentary on World, US, and scientific affairs,weblink Stanford University, March 7, 2003, By the way I'm an atheist.,weblink" title="">weblink October 4, 2013, February 1, 2013, Raised as a Communist, he became a conservative Republican after a two-day visit to Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the Soviet invasion.WEB,weblink Biographies of John McCarthy, Stanford University, 14 February 2016, Earnest, Les, McCarthy died at his home in Stanford on October 24, 2011.NEWS, Myers, Andrew, Stanford's John McCarthy, seminal figure of artificial intelligence, dies at 84,weblink October 26, 2011, Stanford University News, October 25, 2011,

Philosophy of artificial intelligence

In 1979 McCarthy wrote an articleMcCarthy, J. (1979) Ascribing mental qualities to machines. In: Philosophical perspectives in artificial intelligence, ed. M. Ringle. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press. entitled "Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines". In it he wrote, "Machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have beliefs, and having beliefs seems to be a characteristic of most machines capable of problem-solving performance." In 1980 the philosopher John Searle responded with his famous Chinese Room Argument,JOURNAL, Searle, John R, 1980, Minds, brains, and programs, Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 3, 3, 417–457, 10.1017/s0140525x00005756, disagreeing with McCarthy and taking the stance that machines cannot have beliefs simply because they are not conscious. Searle argues that machines lack "understanding" or "intentionality" (a term commonly used in the philosophy of mind). A vast amount of literature has been written in support of one side or the other.

Awards and honors

  • Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery (1971).
  • Kyoto Prize (1988).
  • National Medal of Science (USA) in Mathematical, Statistical, and Computational Sciences (1990).WEB,weblink September 27, 2012, President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details 1990, February 14, 2006, National Science Foundation,
  • Inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum "for his co-founding of the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and timesharing systems, and for major contributions to mathematics and computer science". (1999)WEB, John McCarthy – CHM Fellow Award Winner, CHM,weblink March 30, 2015, weblink
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science from the Franklin Institute (2003).
  • Inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame (2011), for the "significant contributions to the field of AI and intelligent systems".JOURNAL, 10.1109/MIS.2011.64, AI's Hall of Fame,weblink IEEE Intelligent Systems, 26, 4, 5–15, 2011, NEWS,weblink IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders,, August 24, 2011, September 18, 2011, Press release source: PRWeb (Vocus).
  • Named as one of the 2012 Stanford Engineering Heroes.NEWS, Beckett, Jamie, Stanford School of Engineering names new engineering heroes,weblink December 2, 2012, Stanford News, December 2, 2012,

Major publications

  • McCarthy, J. 1959. {{webarchive |url= |date=October 4, 2013 |title="Programs with Common Sense"}}. In Proceedings of the Teddington Conference on the Mechanization of Thought Processes, 756-91. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  • McCarthy, J. 1960. {{webarchive |url= |date=October 4, 2013 |title="Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine"}}. Communications of the ACM 3(4):184-195.
  • McCarthy, J. 1963a "A basis for a mathematical theory of computation". In Computer Programming and formal systems. North-Holland.
  • McCarthy, J. 1963b. Situations, actions, and causal laws. Technical report, Stanford University.
  • McCarthy, J., and Hayes, P. J. 1969. {{webarchive |url= |date=August 25, 2013 |title=Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence}}. In Meltzer, B., and Michie, D., eds., Machine Intelligence 4. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 463-502.
  • McCarthy, J. 1977. "Epistemological problems of artificial intelligence". In IJCAI, 1038-1044.
  • JOURNAL, McCarthy, J, 1980, Circumscription: A form of non-monotonic reasoning, Artificial Intelligence, 13, 1–2, 23–79, 10.1016/0004-3702(80)90011-9,
  • JOURNAL, McCarthy, J, 1986, Applications of circumscription to common sense reasoning, Artificial Intelligence, 28, 1, 89–116, 10.1016/0004-3702(86)90032-9,,
  • McCarthy, J. 1990. "Generality in artificial intelligence". In Lifschitz, V., ed., Formalizing Common Sense. Ablex. 226-236.
  • McCarthy, J. 1993. "Notes on formalizing context". In IJCAI, 555-562.
  • McCarthy, J., and Buvac, S. 1997. "Formalizing context: Expanded notes". In Aliseda, A.; van Glabbeek, R.; and Westerstahl, D., eds., Computing Natural Language. Stanford University. Also available as Stanford Technical Note STAN-CS-TN-94-13.
  • McCarthy, J. 1998. "Elaboration tolerance". In Working Papers of the Fourth International Symposium on Logical formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning, Commonsense-1998.
  • Costello, T., and McCarthy, J. 1999. "Useful counterfactuals". Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence 3(A):51-76
  • McCarthy, J. 2002. "Actions and other events in situation calculus". In Fensel, D.; Giunchiglia, F.; McGuinness, D.; and Williams, M., eds., Proceedings of KR-2002, 615-628.

See also



Further reading

  • Philip J. Hilts, Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science, Simon and Schuster, 1982. Lengthy profiles of John McCarthy, physicist Robert R. Wilson and geneticist Mark Ptashne.
  • Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think: a personal inquiry into the history and prospects of artificial intelligence, 1979, second edition 2004.
  • Pamela Weintraub, ed., The Omni Interviews, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1984. Collected interviews originally published in Omni magazine; contains an interview with McCarthy.

External links

{{Commons category|John McCarthy (computer scientist)|John McCarthy}}
  • {{webarchive |url= |date=October 11, 2013 |title=McCarthy's Stanford home page}}.
  • {{DBLP|name=John McCarthy}}
  • {{MathGenealogy |id=22145 |title=John McCarthy}}
  • {{AIGenealogy |id=259 |title=John McCarthy}}
  • weblink" title="">Celebration of John McCarthy's Accomplishments at Stanford University.
  • Interview with Guy Steele conducted at OOPSLA 2008; Set of interviews:
  • Oral history interview with John McCarthy at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. McCarthy discusses his role in the development of time-sharing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also describes his work in artificial intelligence (AI) funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, including logic-based AI (Lisp) and robotics.
  • Oral history interview with Marvin Minsky at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Minsky describes artificial intelligence (AI) research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including the work of John McCarthy.
  • Oral history interview with Jack B. Dennis at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Dennis discusses the work of John McCarthy on time-sharing, and the influence of DARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office on the development of time-sharing.
  • Oral history interview with Fernando J. Corbató at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Corbató discusses computer science research, especially time-sharing, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including John McCarthy and research on time-sharing.
  • {{Find a Grave|79297117}}
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
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