Scientific Community Mourns the Loss of John McCarthy, Leader in Artificial Intelligence Field

By Ed Silverstein October 26, 2011

The scientific community is mourning the loss of John McCarthy, a leader in the field of artificial intelligence, who died on Monday.

Worldwide, McCarthy, 84, was known for coming up with the term "artificial intelligence," and at Stanford University he was a leader in computer science.

TechZone360 reported how McCarthy developed the programming language called LISP. Stanford University released a statement which recalled how LISP was invented in 1958, and LISP is “still used today and is the programming language of choice for artificial intelligence.”

Other recollections coming from the university noted how McCarthy played computer chess via telegraph with opponents in Russia. And he came up with the idea of computer time-sharing – “an advance that greatly improved the efficiency of distributed computing and predated the era of cloud computing by decades,” according to the Stanford statement.

"A bunch of people decided that time-sharing was clearly the way to work with a computer, but nobody could figure out how to make it work for general purpose computing – nobody except John," Les Earnest, a colleague of McCarthy’s at Stanford, said in the university statement.

In addition, McCarthy originated a "hand-eye" computer system “in which a computer was able to see real 3D blocks via a video camera and control a robotic arm to complete simple stacking and arrangement exercises,” according to the university statement.

In his recollection of McCarthy, Ed Feigenbaum, another colleague at Stanford, said McCarthy "could be blunt, but John was always kind and generous with his time, especially with students, and he was sharp until the end. He was always focused on the future. Always inventing, inventing, inventing. That was John."

Born on Sept. 4, 1927, in Boston, McCarthy received an undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1948 and a PhD at Princeton in 1951, both in mathematics. He taught at Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth and MIT, before heading back to Stanford. He retired from Stanford on Jan. 1, 2001.

McCarthy was given the A. M. Turing Award in 1971, a major honor from the Association of Computing Machinery. He also was given the Kyoto Prize in 1988 and given the National Medal of Science in 1990.

In addition, a blog post from The Washington Post noted how Mashable reported that McCarthy proposed “selling computing power through a utility business model,” in 1961.

“While the idea didn’t gain much traction at the time, it’s now coming back in a big way with the use of grid and cloud computing,” The Post said.

The Post adds that McCarthy’s most popular publication was his 1955 proposal for artificial intelligence.

In it, he wrote that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it,” The Post adds.

For a home page that lists many resources connected to McCarthy, please click here


Ed Silverstein is a TechZone360 contributor. To read more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

TechZone360 Contributor

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