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AI pioneer John McCarthy dies

The computer scientist who coined the term ‘artificial intelligence’ and led the field for years has died.

John McCarthy, emeritus professor at Stanford, died on Monday aged 84, the university has announced.

In 1955 he proposed a research conference which is regarded as the first time the term ‘artificial intelligence’ was used in publication, says Stanford. McCarthy continued his work in this area, inventing the LISP programming language and working with various applications of AI, including chess.

McCarthy was slightly ambivalent about computer chess though, saying in 1997, that it showed scientists’ limited understanding of artificial intelligence that computers used vastly more ‘computing’ than human chess players at the same level.

“In 1965 the Russian mathematician Alexander Kronrod said, ‘Chess is the Drosophila of artificial intelligence.’ However, computer chess has developed as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila,” he said. “We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies.”

McCarthy was also came up with the idea of computer time sharing, which allowed multiple people to use a single computer.

A colleague and fellow computer scientist at Stanford, Ed Feigenbaum, said in a statement, “He could be blunt, but John was always kind and generous with his time, especially with students, and he was sharp until the end. He was always focused on the future. Always inventing, inventing, inventing. That was John.”

More on his take on AI can be found in the 2007 document, ‘What is Artificial Intelligence?

Readers may also like to look over McCarthy’s rather excellent – if slightly expletive laden – 2004 science fiction story ‘The Robot and the Baby’.


  1. Report this comment

    Dr.A.J said:

    In the passing away of Dr.John McCarthy,legendary,inventor of AI and LISP,the computer world lost a visionary and Giant. May his soul rest in peace.

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