John McCarthy, AI pioneer and Lisp inventor, dies

25 Oct 2011

Computer scientist John McCarthy

John McCarthy, a computer scientist who invented the Lisp programming language and a pioneer in artificial intelligence (AI), has died aged 84.

McCarthy was born in 1927 in Boston to an Irish father and a Lithuanian mother. His family moved to Los Angeles in California, where McCarthy taught himself maths.

He was accepted into Caltech and skipped his first two years of mathematics. He went on to receive a PhD in mathematics from Princeton University in 1951.

McCarthy is credited as coining the term “artificial intelligence” in 1955 and applied mathematical logic to develop early versions of AI.

He started the MIT Artificial Intelligence Project in 1958 where he invented Lisp, a programming language for AI that’s still in use today.

McCarthy was also the first to publicly suggest a ‘computer time-sharing’ model in 1961, which said computing power and applications could be sold through a utility model, similar to water and electricity. This can now be seen in concepts such as cloud computing.

He received a Turing award in 1971, a National Medal of Science in 1991 and a Benjamin Franklin Medal in 2003. He retired from Stanford University in 2000.