John McCarthy

John McCarthy was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist, and one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence.

John McCarthy was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. He was one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence. He co-authored the document that coined the term "artificial intelligence" (AI), developed the programming language family Lisp, significantly influenced the design of the language ALGOL, popularized time-sharing, and invented garbage collection.

McCarthy spent most of his career at Stanford University. He received many accolades and honors, such as the 1971 Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize.


John McCarthy was a pioneering computer scientist known for his significant contributions to the field of artificial intelligence (AI). Born on September 4, 1927, in Boston, Massachusetts, McCarthy displayed an early aptitude for mathematics and science. He pursued his education at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and later at Princeton University, where he completed his Ph.D. in mathematics in 1951.

One of McCarthy's most notable achievements was the coining of the term "artificial intelligence" in 1955. He organized the Dartmouth Conference in 1956, which is widely regarded as the birth of AI as an academic field. At this conference, McCarthy and his colleagues outlined the goals and potential of AI research. His visionary work laid the foundation for the development of AI as a distinct discipline.

McCarthy made significant contributions to AI research throughout his career. He developed the LISP programming language in the late 1950s, which became one of the most influential programming languages for AI applications. LISP was designed to facilitate symbolic reasoning and is still used in AI research and development today.

In addition to his work on LISP, McCarthy made pioneering contributions to various AI subfields, including natural language processing, machine learning, and robotics. He was a proponent of using formal logic as a basis for AI reasoning systems. His efforts in these areas helped shape the direction of AI research and inspired generations of computer scientists and AI researchers.

John McCarthy's contributions to computer science and artificial intelligence earned him numerous awards and accolades, including the A.M. Turing Award in 1971, one of the highest honors in the field of computer science. He continued to be an influential figure in the AI community until his passing on October 24, 2011, leaving behind a lasting legacy of innovation and visionary thinking in the field of artificial intelligence.

Published Work

John McCarthy's published work encompasses a wide array of groundbreaking contributions to artificial intelligence and formal logic. In 1959, his paper "Programs with Common Sense" presented at the Teddington Conference on the Mechanization of Thought Processes laid the foundation for AI research by discussing the idea of endowing machines with common-sense reasoning capabilities. In 1960, his work on "Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine" introduced Lisp, a significant programming language for AI, and delved into symbolic computation. McCarthy's influence continued with his 1963 publication "A basis for a mathematical theory of computation," which explored the mathematical underpinnings of computation.

In the late 1960s and 1970s, McCarthy delved into philosophical questions related to artificial intelligence, collaborating with P. J. Hayes on "Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence" and addressing epistemological challenges in AI. His work also extended into non-monotonic reasoning, introducing "Circumscription" in 1980 as a form of reasoning that allows exceptions to be made to general rules. McCarthy further expanded on this concept in 1986 with "Applications of circumscription to common sense reasoning." His exploration of context formalization in AI was evident in papers like "Notes on formalizing context" (1993) and "Formalizing context: Expanded notes" (1997). McCarthy's contributions to the development of the situation calculus and its application in modeling events and actions are evident in his 2002 paper "Actions and other events in situation calculus." These publications collectively demonstrate McCarthy's pioneering role in shaping the field of artificial intelligence and computational logic.


John McCarthy's vision in the field of artificial intelligence was characterized by his unwavering belief in the potential for machines to exhibit human-like intelligence. He envisioned a future where computers could reason, learn, and solve complex problems in a manner similar to human cognition. McCarthy aimed to create intelligent machines that could understand natural language, recognize patterns, and make decisions autonomously. His vision included the development of AI systems capable of not only mimicking human intelligence but also surpassing it in specific domains, ultimately enhancing human capabilities and quality of life.

Furthermore, McCarthy envisioned AI as a multidisciplinary field that would draw insights from various domains, including mathematics, logic, psychology, and computer science. He advocated for collaborative research and knowledge-sharing to advance AI, emphasizing the importance of creating a robust theoretical foundation for AI systems. McCarthy's vision extended beyond academia, as he sought practical applications for AI in fields such as healthcare, education, and problem-solving. His forward-thinking approach and dedication to the possibilities of AI have left a lasting legacy, shaping the direction of AI research and inspiring generations of scientists to continue pursuing his vision of intelligent machines.

Recognition and Awards
John McCarthy received several prestigious awards and recognitions throughout his illustrious career, acknowledging his profound contributions to the field of artificial intelligence and computer science. In 1971, he was honored with the Turing Award by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), one of the highest distinctions in the realm of computer science, for his pioneering work in AI and the development of Lisp, a significant programming language in AI research. In 1988, McCarthy received the Kyoto Prize, recognizing his exceptional contributions to the advancement of science and technology. His groundbreaking research in mathematical, statistical, and computational sciences led to his induction into the National Medal of Science in 1990. John McCarthy's enduring impact on the field of computer science was further celebrated when he was inducted as a Fellow of the Computer History Museum in 1999, a testament to his role in co-founding AI and timesharing systems. In 2003, he was honored with the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science by the Franklin Institute. His legacy continued to be acknowledged, as he was inducted into IEEE Intelligent Systems' AI's Hall of Fame in 2011 and recognized as one of the 2012 Stanford Engineering Heroes, cementing his status as a pioneering figure in the world of artificial intelligence and computer science.



John McCarthy
computer scientist, cognitive scientist
Known for
Artificial intelligence, Lisp, circumscription, situation calculus
Turing Award (1971), Computer Pioneer Award (1985), IJCAI Award for Research Excellence (1985), Kyoto Prize (1988), National Medal of Science (1990), Benjamin Franklin Medal (2003)
BS (Mathematics, California Institute of Technology), PhD (Mathematics, Princeton University)
Fri Mar 01 2024

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