John McCarthy (computer scientist)

John McCarthy (computer scientist)

name = John McCarthy

image_width= 200px
caption = John McCarthy at a summit in 2006
birth_date = birth date and age|1927|9|4
birth_place = Boston, Massachusetts, USA
residence = USA
nationality = American
field = Computer Technology
work_institution = Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Stanford University; Dartmouth College; Princeton University
alma_mater = California Institute of Technology
doctoral_students = Ruzena Rajcsy
Randall Davis
Claude Green
Barbara Liskov
Robert Moore
Francis Morris
Raj Reddy
known_for = Artificial Intelligence; Circumscription; Situation calculus; Lisp
prizes = Turing Award, 1971; Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science, 2003
religion = Atheist [ cite web | last=McCarthy | first=John | title=Commentary on World, US, and scientific affairs | url= | accessdate=2008-02-01 | date=2007-03-07 | quote=By the way I'm an atheist. ]

John McCarthy (born September 4, 1927, in Boston, Massachusetts), is an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist who received the Turing Award in 1971 for his major contributions to the field of Artificial Intelligence (AI). He was responsible for the coining of the term "Artificial Intelligence" in his 1955 proposal for the 1956 Dartmouth Conference and is the inventor of the Lisp programming language.


John McCarthy was born in Boston on September 4, 1927 to two immigrants, John Patrick and Ida Glatt McCarthy. The family was forced to move frequently during the depression, until McCarthy's father found work as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Los Angeles, California. McCarthy showed an early aptitude for mathematics; in his teens he taught himself mathematics by studying the textbooks used at the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). As a result, when he was accepted into Caltech the following year, he was able to skip the first two years of mathematics. cite journal
last = Hayes
first = Patrick J.
authorlink =
coauthors = Leora Morgenstern
title = On John McCarthy's 80th Birthday, in Honor of his Contributions
journal = AI Magazine
volume = 28
issue = 4
pages =
publisher =
location =
date = 2007
url =
doi =
id =
accessdate =

Receiving a B.S. in Mathematics in 1948, McCarthy initially continued his studies at Caltech. He received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton University in 1951 under Solomon Lefschetz. After short-term appointments at Princeton, Stanford, Dartmouth, and MIT, he became a full professor at Stanford in 1962, where he remained until his retirement at the end of 2000. He is now a Professor Emeritus.


McCarthy championed mathematical logic for Artificial Intelligence. In 1958, he proposed the advice taker, which inspired later work on question-answering and logic programming. Based on the Lambda Calculus, Lisp rapidly became the programming language of choice for AI applications after its publication in 1960 [cite journal|title=Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine|last=McCarthy|first=John|journal=CACM
] . He helped to motivate the creation of Project MAC at MIT, but left MIT for Stanford University in 1962, where he helped set up the Stanford AI Laboratory, for many years a friendly rival to Project MAC.

In 1961, he was the first to publicly suggest (in a speech given to celebrate MIT's centennial) that computer time-sharing technology might lead to a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity). This idea of a computer or information utility was very popular in the late 1960s, but faded by the mid-1970s as it became clear that the hardware, software and telecommunications technologies of the time were simply not ready. However, since 2000, the idea has resurfaced in new forms. See application service provider.

From 1978 to 1986, McCarthy developed the circumscription method of nonmonotonic reasoning.

John McCarthy often comments on world affairs on the Usenet forums. Some of his ideas can be found in his [ sustainability web page] , which is "aimed at showing that human material progress is desirable and sustainable".

Major Publications

* McCarthy, J. 1959. Programs with common sense. "In Proceedings of the Teedington Conference on the Mechanization of Thought Processes", 756-91. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
* McCarthy, J. 1960. Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine. "Communications of the ACM" 3(4):184-195.
* McCarthy, J. 1963a A basis for a mathematical theory of computation. "In Computer Programming and formal systems". North-Holland.
* McCarthy, J. 1963b. Situations, actions, and causal laws. Technical report, Stanford University.
* McCarthy, J., and Hayes, P. J. 1969. Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence. In Meltzer, B., and Michie, D., eds., "Machine Intelligence" 4. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 463-502.
* McCarthy, J. 1977. Epistemological problems of artificial intelligence. In "IJCAI", 1038-1044.
* McCarthy, J. 1980. Circumscription: A form of non-monotonic reasoning. "Artificial Intelligence" 13(1-2):23-79.
* McCarthy, J. 1986. Applications of circumscription to common sense reasoning. "Artificial Intelligence" 28(1):89-116.
* McCarthy, J. 1990. Generality in artificial intelligence. In Lifschitz, V., ed., "Formalizing Common Sense". Ablex. 226-236.
* McCarthy, J. 1993. Notes on formalizing context. In "IJCAI", 555-562.
* McCarthy, J., and Buvac, S. 1997. Formalizing context: Expanded notes. In Aliseda, A.; van Glabbeek, R.; and Westerstahl, D., eds., "Computing Natural Language". Stanford University. Also available as Stanford Technical Note STAN-CS-TN-94-13.
* McCarthy, J. 1998. Elaboration tolerance. In "Working Papers of the Fourth International Symposium on Logical formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning", Commonsense-1998.
* Costello, T., and McCarthy, J. 1999. Useful counterfactuals. "Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence" 3(A):51-76
* McCarthy, J. 2002. Actions and other events in situation calculus. In Fensel, D.; Giunchiglia, F.; McGuinness, D.; and Williams, M., eds., "Proceedings of KR-2002", 615-628.

ee also

*Frame problem
*McCarthy 91 function


Further reading

* "Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science" by Philip J. Hilts, Simon and Schuster, 1982. Lengthy profiles of John McCarthy, physicist Robert R. Wilson and geneticist Mark Ptashne.
* "Machines Who Think: a personal inquiry into the history and prospects of artificial intelligence" by Pamela McCorduck, 1979, second edition 2004.
* "The Omni Interviews" edited by Pamela Weintraub, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1984. Collected interviews originally published in "Omni" magazine; contains an interview with McCarthy.

External links

* [ McCarthy's Stanford home page] .
* [ Oral history interview with John McCarthy] at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. McCarthy discusses the initial establishment and development of time-sharing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the role he played in it. He then describes his subsequent move to Stanford in 1962 and his work in artificial intelligence (AI) funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency.
* [ Oral history interview with Marvin Minsky] at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Minsky describes artificial intelligence (AI) research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including the work of John McCarthy.
* [ Oral history interview with Jack B. Dennis] at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Dennis discusses the work of John McCarthy on time-sharing, and the influence of DARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office on the development of time-sharing.
* [ Oral history interview with Fernando J. Corbató] at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Corbató discusses computer science research, especially time-sharing, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including John McCarthy and research on time-sharing.
* [ McCarthy at The Mathematics Genealogy Project]

NAME= McCarthy, John
SHORT DESCRIPTION= American computer scientist
DATE OF BIRTH= 1927-9-4
PLACE OF BIRTH= Boston, Massachusetts, USA

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