John McCarthy

Stanford University, 1999 Fellow

For his co-founding of the fields of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and timesharing systems, and for major contributions to mathematics and computer science

"You don't want to examine the basis of your computer's morality any more than you want to see sausage being made."

— John McCarthy

John McCarthy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1927. He received a BS in mathematics from Caltech (1948) and a PhD, also in mathematics, from Princeton University (1951). McCarthy was a pioneer in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI), computer science, and interactive computing systems.

McCarthy coined the term “AI” in 1955 in connection with a proposed summer workshop at Dartmouth College, which many of the world's leading thinkers in computing attended. As part of refining his ideas about AI, he also invented the programming language lisp in 1958.

While at MIT, McCarthy proposed a method of distributing computer resources known as timesharing, in which many individual users could appear to have sole access to an expensive mainframe computer system. Timesharing became a dominant computing paradigm in the 1960s and 1970s, and MIT led much of the early work, influenced by McCarthy's ideas.

In 1965, McCarthy became the founding director of the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL), where research was conducted into machine intelligence, graphical interactive computing, and autonomous vehicles.

McCarthy was chosen as the 1971 winner of the ACM Turing Award, and was awarded the Kyoto Prize (1988) and the National Medal of Science (1990). He passed away in 2011.


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