John McCarthy, father of Artificial Intelligence and creator of LISP language, dies aged 84


John McCarthy, father of Artificial Intelligence and creator of LISP language, dies aged 84

Warwick Ashford

The artificial intelligence (AI) community is mourning the death of John McCarthy, the US scientist who invented the LISP computer language at the heart of this field of study.

McCarthy's death, at the age of 84, comes within weeks of the demise of technology pioneers Dennis Ritchie, Unix co-creator and creator of C, and Apple co-founder Steve Jobs.


McCarthy is credited with coining the term "Artificial Intelligence" in 1955 when he detailed plans for the first Dartmouth conference that helped focus early AI research, according to the BBC.

The conference brought together experts in language, sensory input, learning machines and other fields to discuss the potential of information technology. McCarthy's proposal was 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.

McCarthy is widely recognised as a key contributor to creating the discipline Artificial Intelligence through naming the subject, organising the Dartmouth conference and devising a language that enabled AI programs to be read easily.

LISP remained the AI language for many years and had no major competitor until Edinburgh developed Prolog.

In 1971 McCarthy was awarded the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in recognition of his importance to the field and the National Medal of Science in 1991.


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