Posted by: Jack Vaughan
The ‘creator of Lisp’ may be nicer than the ‘father of garbage collection.’ But John McCarthy could answer to either sobriquet. He died last week, at 84.
With Lisp, he gave a language to artificial intelligence and set the stage for reasoning systems and robots still a’borning. With garbage collection, he began to solve a problem that had begun to stymie computer advances.
Here, for perspective, is OMG leader Richard Soley’s take on the work of John McCarthy:
Although I never had the opportunity to meet Prof. McCarthy (he inconveniently left MIT for Stanford about the time I was born), his life and work had a profound influence on me. I worked on MacLisp, CommonLisp and other Lisp systems the entire time I was at MIT, including a detailed stint on garbage collection systems (which he invented, before I was born). The ideas that he brought to computer science, cognitive science and the nascent field of artificial intelligence (the name of which he coined) were literally decades ahead of their time, and that kind of forethought is rare. I was lucky enough to work with some of his contemporaries, but many, many of his students; his life’s work enriched mine tremendously.