back to article Father of Lisp and AI John McCarthy has died

Stanford University has confirmed that John McCarthy, the inventor of the LISP programming language and one of the pioneers of artificial intelligence (AI), has died at the age of 84. Among developers, McCarthy may be best known as the inventor of Lisp, which he devised in 1958 while at MIT and published in the seminal work " …

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What is going on here? Titans of the computer industry are falling like flies! RIP McCarthy - LISP will always be the best language that I never get to use.

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Anonymous Coward

McCarthy, Ritchie... Two titans does not a "falling like flies make".

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Yag

Humans are not immortal...

Computer science is now 50 years old, no wonder the early pioneers are dying from old age.

At least, 84 is quite honorable... Poor Turing didn't even made it to half of this.

All in all, it's always sad when one of our bearded forefather close his final bracket (or parenthesis in this case).

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The Great GC in the Sky is running in the background ?

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Unhappy

Waiting for the third

Ritchie and now McCarthy makes two and these things have a tendency to come in threes. Then again I am still wondering who the other two cult leading CEOs will be.

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wow St. Peter must be having a fit trying to understand all those technical gibberish, the arrival section is full of technical people.

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At least Alan Turing will get some company now...

Apparently a post is required.

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That's what is happening...

Creation's up for an upgrade, and they want to improve from Mark I so they're calling in the experts. Ritchie for speed and elegance, McCarthy for complex symbol manipulation... and Jobs to make it all shiny and simple.

-dZ.

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Re: Mark I

Aren't we Mark II ? Or are you starting from zero? Besides, easier than starting a task force is to just call in another asteroid strike and let things sort themselves out. . .

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Father of cloud computing dies

"If computers of the kind I have advocated become the computers of the future, then computing may someday be organized as a public utility just as the telephone system is a public utility... The computer utility could become the basis of a new and important industry."

— John McCarthy (speaking at the MIT Centennial in 1961)

It's been pointed out that McCarthy used the term "utility" rather than "cloud", but many of us would argue they are one and the same. Indeed Wikipedia defines it as:

"Cloud computing is the delivery of computing as a service rather than a product, whereby shared resources, software, and information are provided to computers and other devices as a utility (like the electricity grid) over a network (typically the Internet)."

In any case, can anyone think of anyone more deserving of the honour of the title "father of cloud computing" than McCarthy? I certainly can't.

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Anonymous Coward

*funny skit* (enthusiastically) "To the public utility!!" *music, logo*

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Unhappy

Sad But...

Yes, John was a thinking man, a giant in his day. I don't like lisp (or any functional language) but it could just be me. Others swear by it. Still, McCarthy did as much as anybody (certainly as much as Minsky) to get AI research stuck in the hopeless rut of symbol manipulation for half a century. What a waste of time and brains! It is only recently that new thinkers in the field have begun to realize that intelligence is at its core a tenmporal phenomenon.

That being said, "artificial intelligence" has a nice ring to it. I thank McCarthy for that because the phrase has caused more people to become interested in the field than anything else.

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LISP technically isn't a functional language - it's a multi-paradigm language. A real functional language doesn't support assignment.

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Indeed, in the version of LISP I used in the mid 70's, it was possible to write fully-procedural code.

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Trollface

I thought all intelligence was artificial

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Unhappy

@Louis Savain

"Still, McCarthy did as much as anybody (certainly as much as Minsky) to get AI research stuck in the hopeless rut of symbol manipulation for half a century"

I'd suggest you' restrain your annoyance for Marvin Minsky & Seymour Papert (who invented LOGO). Their book "Perceptrons" is credited with killing funding on neural networks in the US for decades.

http://www.jstor.org/pss/285702

For a description of the human behavior behind the AI.

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Anonymous Coward

You're *the* Louis Savain, aren't you? And the "new thinkers in the field"? That'd be you, would it? With your description of intelligence derived from biblical sources? http://www.dailygrail.com/blogs/Louis-Savain/2004/7/Artificial-Intelligence-and-Bible - sadly your groundbreaking work in this area seems to no longer be available. Yet here you are having a bash at McCarthy, who actually, you know, DID USEFUL STUFF.

As for intelligence being a tenmporal phenomenon, can you name a phenomenon that isn't tenmporal? You may as well say it's a spatio-tenmporal phenomenon, that'll get the buzzwords in without making the assertion any more meaningful, or any more correctly spelled.

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Anonymous Coward

Louse Savain is a full time troll

http://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Louis+Savain

Wasted more time than you can possibly image. Do not feed or it comes back.

Their perceptron work was just to point out that these devices had limits, that's all. (and only in those with few hidden layers IIRC). They never intended to knacker the whole field, just inject a little reality.

Happened to be doing emacs lisp right now, how's that for a tribute to longevity.

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Anonymous Coward

You are correct, sir.

Only stupidity is natural.

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Pint

λf.(λx.f (x x)) (λx.f (x x))

Woah "rule of three" etc...

Steve, Dennis, John.

No hold on. Steve doesn't really fit. No rule of three then.

Ah the times when I exchanged my summer holiday for the joy of writing a Scheme interpreter in the first version of Turbo C++. I had to use overlays, too.

BEER NOW.

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Unhappy

Wandered into his office once...

I once wandered into his office... VERY friendly guy when some stranger wanders into his open door. He was talking with someone and I quickly apologized and backed out. I did participate in one Lisp project after that... Anyone else remember the TI Explorer?

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RIP McCarthy. We built a chunk of an industry on your back, so I'd say you earned the rest.

They say things happen in threes. If you count Jobs (I wouldn't, but the case could be made) that makes three men who helped build the pillars of the modern IT world to leave us in the last month. Can we stop now? My toasts are going to start getting repetitious if too many more of these oldschool geniuses die.

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Stop

Third's still missing

Jobs didn't receive a Turing award, and never would have. So he doesn't count.

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Anonymous Coward

@sisk

I quite agree with you that Jobs was a different kind of giant. Unlike Ritchie and McCarthy, who were uebertechies with superb vision of what their inventions might be used for, Jobs was essentially a magnificent marketing man. (I use "marketing" in its widest and best sense, to mean finding out what people want - even if they don't realise it - and giving it to them in a form that delights them). Jobs didn't invent new technology: instead, he used other people's inventions to the best advantage, often in ways even they never dreamed of.

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λ

I always wanted one of those on my keyboard.

R.I.P John.

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Dijkstra?

must contain letters...

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Pint

Codd?

Yes, Ed was a giant and so was Ted. We lost them both in the early part of this century.

As a data guy, my career is largely built on Ted's orginal research.

Men of math and seminal thoughts.

Something mathy and funny http://xkcd.com/899/

philip

beer, because a toast is due.

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Dijkstra - Yea

I love my satnav - Thank you Edsger and McArthy.

I once programmed in Lisp and enjoyed it very much even if it did affect my speech for a while. I was also using FORTH at he same time but that's another story.

McArthy was a proper expert in his field and will be sadly missed, like many other unsung heroes.

RIP John McArthy (Black Border)

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Pint

Thank you Mr. McCarthy

I was introduced to Lisp at university, but I never used it in anger (except on some assignments). Just knowing it existed has had a very subtle impact on my thinking. If Lisp exists, then what else is possible?

For those that also dabble in hardware, the list of recently-fallen tech heroes includes Jim Williams and Robert A. Pease.

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Angel

He IS the third...

Sorry, you have to include Jobs. Jobs has always LOVED hardware, much more than software, and even though his best role is as salesman and visionary, he certainly pushed the development of hardware at Apple to new, industry-influencing levels. He DID shift paradigms, even if he didn't invent them himself.

McCarthy...what a loss. I've done a little work with LISP (Literally Infinite Sets of Parenthesis!), but the language itself wasn't what was important. It was his vision of intelligent machines, and his acknowledgement of both their practicality, and certain limitations, that made McCarthy such a seminal figure. Back in those days, it took a great stretch of the imagination to think about a machine that COULD think.

RIP...

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Anonymous Coward

(pithy lisp thingy here)

For the longest time I'd seen AI as, well, sort-of the sociology of computer science. Grandiose claims, no rigour, little result. They admit that, too: Took them a couple decades to figure out that scientific method isn't merely a neat idea. Even so, there's been some good stuff, most of it rather hidden and non-obvious to the casual user. Now that I'm actually looking into it (stanford's webalized introductory courses), I can see where the use lies. Even though it's been slow going, perhaps unnecessarily so (who's to say? or maybe, when might we be able to say? it'll be a while.) it has done its bit to advance the state of the art. To the point that the US military did, in the end, get their killer app that was, in their words, worth the 30 years worth of investments.

So a salute to the lisp guy. And thanks for all the lithpth.

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LISP

I wish I could say I had fond memories of LISP

LISP = Lots of Irritating Spurious Parentheses :-))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

Doesn’t EMACS use LISP as its extension language, presumably that why EMACS Eventually malloc()'s All Computer Storage, it to store all those parentheses.

I wonder will Bono (hack, spit) go to John McCarthy;s funeral

(CONS ('John McCarthy' 'Denis Ritchie’) (Departed_Giants_of_computing)))

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Isn't EMACS written in LISP?

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Unhappy

Does he make really expensive shiny things

No!! Move along then, nothing to see here.

Sadly another loss that will be ignored by the many.

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Windows

"...another loss that will be ignored by the many"

But, missed by the few who actually matter.

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Something's worng

You know something's wrong when even XKCD seems to make a Jobs memorial, but completely ignores Ritchie and McCarthy. Especially since LISP has been featured in xkcd...

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Pint

AI

We're no closer to AI than when he first invented the term, only able to make that much more detailed simulations thanks to moore's law marching on. Could have made a computer to win every possible chess match in the 70s if there were terabytes of memory and petabytes of storage and gigahertz of processing power available. Could make an expert system truly expert if you jam in enough rules and have enough processing power to trawl through them all. But that's not how intelligence works. Or maybe it is, who can say, we still have barely the faintest clue.

When the internet gains (gained?) consciousness, the trick will be (is?) to even recognize it as such. If it influences the world, say by creating online personalities, or altering communications between actual personalities online, who could guess what the goal might be? How long do you suppose it could (will?) go on without breaking through the surface of human awareness? When Gaia reaches this level in planetary evolution, who or what out there might take notice? At some point maybe the need for us fungal microbes that made it all possible might fade away, maybe there will be some kind of a molting?

I took the artificial intelligence option at school because it sounded interesting, and it was, but fat lot of good it did me :( Lisp and Prolog, like LSD and DMT, give your brain a good stretching, that can be healthy in some way I suppose, but not much more point to it than that.

Cheers to the man for doing his bit to keep novelty progressing.

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Garbage collection was invented by John McCarthy around 1959 to solve problems in Lisp.

1959! The first mainframes were just starting to come online then or for our younger, time challenged readers this occurred before all the events in COD Black Ops.

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not mentioned

Wasn't LISP one of the first languages with automatic garbage collection? Pretty impressive if you consider it was available decades before Java.

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Pint

T

I like this quote from the jargon file:

===========================

In LISP, the constant T means `true', among other things. Some Lisp hackers use `T' and `NIL' instead of `Yes' and `No' almost reflexively. This sometimes causes misunderstandings. When a waiter or flight attendant asks whether a hacker wants coffee, he may absently respond `T', meaning that he wants coffee; but of course he will be brought a cup of tea instead.

==============================

Gave me a chuckle.

What a great achievement to have made in your life. Not just a great personal achievement, but an accomplishment that has contributed so much to so many. A truly great man.

Very few in my opinion hold this great mantle. Dennis Ritchie was one of the chosen. One of the few to be sure. (c) Andrew Eldritch. When I was homeless and had to gather my things in a bag, I made sure I had K&R in there. I still couldn't understand a bloody word of it, but it was smaller than Teach Yourself Programming in Ten Years. J/K. Except about the K&R.

When I die, I doubt I will get a head stone. Though if I did, I know it will not say: Here lies a great man. I am okay with that. It also will not say: Here lies a bad man. And I am even better with that one. It just heartens me to know, that I lived for a time on planet Earth amongst the scum-suckers and don't-know-any-betters, and that people like this existed - a beacon to humanity, something to strive for.

And it might be wrong of me and a great failing, but I would be disappointed if he was not a good person as well. I have high standards for my heroes.

Now, T anyone?

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Anonymous Coward

C.

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Emacs

There was time, long long ago, when the joke acronym for EMACS - Eight Megabytes and Constantly Swapping was very funny, because 8 megabytes was incomprehensibly huge.

How times have changed.

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WTF?

At the risk of inviting loads of flak, can I just say say that of all the great things John should be remembered for, LISP is not one of them. It must be the most difficult language of all to debug. Or even read if someone else has different ideas about how to group brackets in a vain attempt to make it logical. Or, god forbid they have passed the source through a white space compacter.

Unmatched "(": is not the world's most helpful error message in a language which consists of almost nothing but (((((((((((((...

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