The Other McCain

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Computer Scientist John McCarthy, RIP

Posted on | October 24, 2011 | 8 Comments

by Smitty

Via Tech Crunch:

The creator of Lisp and arguably the father of modern artificial intelligence, John McCarthy, died today. He studied mathematics with the famous John Nash at Princeton and, notably, held the first “computer-chess” match between scientists in the US and the USSR. He transmitted the moves by telegraph.

McCarthy believed AI should be interactive, allowing for a give and take similar to AI simulators like Eliza and, more recently, Siri. His own labs were run in an open, free-wheeling fashion, encouraging exploration and argument. He won the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1972 and the National Medal of Science in 1991.

Lisp (List Processing) is one of those initial revolutionary ideas. Whoever does not understand LISP, is doomed to reinvent it, as they say. In my opinion, McCarthy was more important than Steve Jobs.

One anticipates a coffin consisting of a pair of giant parenthesis.

Heaven rest him.


8 Responses to “Computer Scientist John McCarthy, RIP”

  1. Charles G. Hill
    October 24th, 2011 @ 7:59 pm

    “…a coffin consisting of a pair of giant parenthesis.”

    What do we do for Donald Knuth when he goes?  Huge curly braces?

  2. Anonymous
    October 24th, 2011 @ 8:11 pm

    Smitty, CAR and CDR! LOL!

  3. Joe
    October 24th, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

  4. Rodtheold
    October 24th, 2011 @ 8:47 pm

    Being famous and being important are not synonymous! Ask Angus Mac Dougal whos quote from 986 you have paraphrased “Those who do not learn history are bound to repeat it”!

  5. Charles
    October 24th, 2011 @ 9:26 pm

    (Siri Jobs (Ritchie McCarthy))

  6. ThePaganTemple
    October 24th, 2011 @ 11:17 pm

    McCarthy would no doubt be touched by your tribute to him, Smitty. Who knows, maybe Nash will tell him about it the next time he has him over for dinner.

  7. Anonymous
    October 25th, 2011 @ 12:51 am

    Smitty, to do it right, the parentheses will be a very complex expression, and there will be a left-paren missing, so it never resolves.

    Full disclosure, I never really liked Lisp all that much.  It was great in particular applications, but we found ourselves having to write supporting code in other languages (which over the years always seemed to gravitate toward a variant of C).

    (Alternative to that, was to have an in-house compiler team that could add whatever you need to the compiler to get it to run the in the usual constraints.)

  8. Quartermaster
    October 25th, 2011 @ 8:02 am

    McCarthy’s coffin would full of Parenthesis. I’d fill Wirth’s with colons (always hated that about Pascal). I wrote a few routines in Lisp for Autocad back in teh day, but tried to avoid Lisp as much as I could. Felt the same about Forth.

    Endured FORTRAN in engineering school, liked Pl1, but still use BASIC (GWBASIC, no less) for the type of programs I need to write these days. A lot of people look down on BASIC, but I have often doen the work I need to do before the ‘C’ dilletantes are even to the point of debugging.

    And, yes, the type of stuff I do these days in my shop involve programs with less than a 100 lines of code. I’m usually doing something minor to a lot of data (3 weeks ago had to make a minor change in something like a million lines of data) rather than producing code that will get used regularly for the next 10 years. and includes a bunch of exception handling. If I did that I’d be looking at a language that is better for such things.