John McCarthy

What Does John McCarthy Mean?

John McCarthy was a computer and cognitive scientist most notable for his great contributions in the field of artificial intelligence, where he is considered as one of the founders. He also coined the term “artificial intelligence” and developed Lisp, one of the earliest programming languages, which is favored for use in AI research. He received the Turing Award for his contributions in AI, the Kyoto Prize and the United States National Medal of Science, among many other honors and accolades.


Techopedia Explains John McCarthy

John McCarthy was computer scientist born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1927. He graduated two years early from high school and then was subsequently accepted at the California Institute of Technology in 1944 where received his BS in mathematics in 1948. It was here that he found his inspiration for his future endeavors, when he attended a lecture by John von Neumann. In 1951, he received his PhD in mathematics from Princeton University. He then became an assistant professor at Dartmouth in 1955 and an MIT Research Fellow the following year. In 1962, McCarthy finally became a full professor at Stanford University where he stayed until his retirement in 2000. He passed away on October 24, 2011.

John McCarthy is considered as one of the “founding fathers” of artificial intelligence, and was actually the one who coined the term. He also organized the now famous Dartmouth Conference in 1956, which started artificial intelligence as an actual field of computing.

He joined the committee that developed ALGOL in 1956; this programming language was a very influential tool to the field of AI by introducing many new programming constructs that are still in use today. Shortly after, he invented the Lisp programming language, which became the go-to language for AI applications. He also invented the programming concept of “garbage collection” in order to solve various problems in Lisp; the concept is still in use today.

He helped inspire and set up Artificial Intelligence Laboratories: the Project on Mathematics and Computation (MAC) at MIT and the Stanford AI Laboratory. Then in 1961, he was the first to publicly suggest the idea of utility computing during a speech at a celebration for MIT’s centennial. The premise was that time-sharing technology could eventually result in computing power and even specific programs could be shared or sold through a utility business model, much like the way water and electricity are sold and distributed. Fifty or so years later, this idea is evident in modern servers and the concept of cloud computing.


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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.