John McCarthy

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John McCarthy (2006)

John McCarthy (born September 4, 1927 in Boston , Massachusetts , † October 23, 2011 in Palo Alto , California ) was an American logician, computer scientist and author. He is the inventor of the LISP programming language . For his significant contributions in the field of artificial intelligence , McCarthy received the Turing Award in 1971 and a Kyoto Prize in 1988 . In 1991 he was awarded the National Medal of Science .


McCarthy received his Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics from the California Institute of Technology in 1948 . He obtained his doctorate three years later in 1951 at Princeton University under Solomon Lefschetz ( Projection operators and partial differential equations ). After stays at Stanford University , Dartmouth College and Massachusetts Institute of Technology , he was professor at Stanford from 1962, where he retired in 2000. He was active as Professor Emeritus at Stanford University until his death and often commented on world events in Internet forums from a mathematical-scientific perspective.

McCarthy's first PhD student was Raj Reddy , who later also won the Turing Award. McCarthy was also the doctoral supervisor of Turing Prize winner Barbara Liskov .

From 1957 to 1959 he was a Sloan Fellow in Physical Science. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1974), the American Association for the Advancement of Science , the American Mathematical Society, and the Association for Computing Machinery . In 1987 he was admitted to the National Academy of Engineering and in 1989 to the National Academy of Sciences . He was president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence from 1983 to 1984 and served on the editorial board of the Artificial Intelligence Journal from 1975 .

He wrote short stories in which the development of AI plays a role.

McCarthy was an atheist. Quote:

“Responding to Richard Dawkins ’s pestering his fellow atheists to 'come out', I mention that I am indeed an atheist. To count oneself as an atheist one need not claim to have a proof that no gods exist. One need merely think that the evidence on the god question is in about the same state as the evidence on the werewolf question. "


The first conference on artificial intelligence, the Dartmouth Conference , took place in the summer of 1956. In 1955, McCarthy coined the term artificial intelligence in the application for funding from the Rockefeller Foundation for this conference . McCarthy is the inventor of the programming language LISP , the design of which he presented in 1960 in the journal Communications of the ACM . LISP was one of the first implementations of a logic calculus on a computer.

He is also credited with inventing the alpha-beta algorithm , which made a decisive contribution to the playing strength of chess programs, and the first mark-and-sweep algorithm for automatic garbage collection.


The IJCAI's John McCarthy Award is given to mid-career scientists in Artificial Intelligence.


  • Vladimir Lifschitz: John McCarthy (1927-2011). In: Nature , Volume 480, 2011, p. 40.

Web links

Commons : John McCarthy  - collection of images, videos and audio files

supporting documents

  1. tweet from Stanford Engineering
  2. a b c ((Requiescat) in (pace)): On the death of John McCarthy ., October 25, 2011; Retrieved October 25, 2011.
  3. jmc / personal Stanford University
  4. ^ McCarthy et al .: A Proposal for the Dartmouth Summer Research Project on Artificial Intelligence . ( Memento of September 30, 2008 in the Internet Archive ) August 1955, p. 1 (funding application)