John McCarthy is a pioneer of AI or Artificial Intelligence and a popular computer scientist. He made huge contributions in mathematics and the computer science and made significant inventions in the field of artificial intelligence & interactive computing systems.
McCarthy was born in 1927, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Patrick McCarthy, was a Catholic who became a labor organizer and Business Manager of the Daily Worker, a national newspaper that was owned by the Communist Party in the USA. John’s mother, Glatt, was a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant and worked for the wire service as Daily Worker later and as a social worker.
His family and John lived through the great depression during the 1930s. The recession caused them to shift and relocate to LA. His excellence was becoming quite apparent though his health hindered his schooling. John was self-taught during his academic life. When health permitted, John entered public school and skipped several grades because of his self-study.
Being a sickly child, John turned to read books for solace, eventually, his family shifted in the hope his health will improve. Though it did, and he also proved to be a prodigious scholar, skipping 3 grades in 1944 he entered the California Institute of Technology. Despite the fact he took a little time off from his school for several reasons, which includes his stint in the army as a clerk, John graduated 4 years later with a degree in mathematics.
John 1948 got a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from California Institute of Technology & later in 1951 he became a doctorate in mathematics from Princeton University. From 1955-58, he held professorships at Dartmouth College; Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958–62, where he worked on the earliest time-sharing systems; later between 1953 and 1962 at Stanford University he founded SAIL or Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab, which was the primary centres for the research in this field. Though he started in mathematics, he started with the newly made computer science department in 1963 at Stanford and stayed there till his retirement.
Dr John McCarthy was married 3 times. Vera Watson was his second wife and also a member of the American Women’s Himalayan Expedition, she died in a climbing accident that happened in 1978 on Annapurna.
Besides Sarah and Calif., he’s survived by his wife, Carolyn Talcott, another daughter, Susan, of San Francisco & son, Timothy.
He stayed to be an independent thinker in his entire life. Some years before, his daughters gave him the license plate bearing his favourite adages: “Do the arithmetic or be doomed to talk nonsense.”
Dr John’s career followed an arc of current computing. Trained as a mathematician, John was responsible for the seminal advances in this field and often was called the father of computer time-sharing, it was the major development of the 1960s that allowed many people and companies to draw from one single computer, like the mainframe, without having one.
Reducing costs, allowed many people to make use of computers and laid the groundwork for interactive computing.
Although he didn’t foresee the rise of the personal computer, John was prophetic to describe the implications of various other technological advances years before they got currency. In the 1970s, he presented one paper in France about buying & selling by computer, now it is termed electronic commerce.
And while studying artificial intelligence, there is nobody more influential than McCarthy. When teaching mathematics in 1956 at Dartmouth, Dr John was also the organizer of his first Dartmouth Artificial Intelligence Conference.
His idea of simulating intelligence was discussed for years, but the term “artificial intelligence” —used originally to help to raise funds for supporting conferences — stuck.
Dr John moved to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958, and there with Marvin Minsky, John founded Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. This was at MIT he started working on List Processing Language (Lisp), a programming language that became a standard tool for AI intelligence research & design.
Evolution of AI
During the summer of 1956, John started working on a program that will help the computer to play chess. To limit its possible moves and speed up this game, John developed the method termed an alpha-beta heuristic that made it actually possible for the computer to eliminate moves that will benefit the opponent. It was the evolution of artificial intelligence (AI), a term John coined that year while he organized the first conference on modelling intelligence in computers.
John became an associate professor in mathematics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1958 and founded his first Artificial Intelligence laboratory there. He started creating a computer language that will be called List Processing Language or LISP. It remains a commonly used language, especially in AI research. When at MIT, John started developing different ways of time-sharing on computers that will make the networks possible just by allowing several people to share their data on the same large computer. Besides, he initiated work on the concept of giving computers “common sense,” it was an idea that will perplex programmers for years.
Programming languages, the web, the Internet, and robots are some of the technological innovations that McCarthy paved his way for. He coined “Artificial Intelligence,” as the first computer language for symbolic computation, LISP (that is used even now as the most preferred language in AI), and established time-sharing. The human-level AI & commonsense reasoning were his major contributions in this field. Furthermore, Dr John has written many papers on the theories of various calculations that are the basis of software science today.
In the field of engineering, he proposed some basic concepts of the Time-Sharing System and was also involved in its development. The work opened the way for the development of large-scale computers today.
Besides his academic contributions, Dr John established his first AI research project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was also the founder of the Artificial Intelligence Lab. When he moved to Stanford University, he established AI Laboratory there.
His efforts in the artificial intelligence field are quite immaculate throughout his wonderful career. John’s contributions were recognized worldwide and he also received several awards. He won several prestigious awards, which include:
- He received Turing Award from Association for Computing Machinery in 1971.
- Was awarded Kyoto Prize in 1988.
- He was awarded the National Medal of Science in the Statistical, Computational Sciences & Mathematics by the USA in 1990.
- In 2003, he was awarded the Benjamin Franklin Medal in Cognitive Science & Computers by Franklin Institute.