John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 - October 24, 2011) was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. McCarthy was one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence. He coined the term " artificial intelligence" (AI), developed the Lisp programming language family, significantly influenced the design of the ALGOL programming language, popularized timesharing, and was very influential in the early development of AI.
McCarthy spent most of his career at Stanford University. He received many accolades and honors, such as the 1971 Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize.
John McCarthy was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on September 4, 1927, to an Irish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant mother, John Patrick and Ida (Glatt) McCarthy. The family was obliged to relocate frequently during the Great Depression, until McCarthy's father found work as an organizer for the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in Los Angeles, California. His father came from the fishing village of Cromane in County Kerry, Ireland. His mother died in 1957.
McCarthy was exceptionally intelligent and graduated from Belmont High School two years early. McCarthy was accepted into Caltech in 1944.
McCarthy showed an early aptitude for mathematics; during his teens, he taught himself college mathematics by studying the textbooks used at the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech). As a result, he was able to skip the first two years of mathematics at Caltech. McCarthy was suspended from Caltech for failure to attend physical education courses. He then served in the US Army and was readmitted, receiving a B.S. in mathematics in 1948.
It was at Caltech that he attended a lecture by John von Neumann that inspired his future endeavors.
McCarthy championed mathematical logic for artificial intelligence.
John McCarthy is one of the "founding fathers" of artificial intelligence, together with Alan Turing, Marvin Minsky, Allen Newell, and Herbert A. Simon. McCarthy coined the term "artificial intelligence" in 1955 and organized the famous Dartmouth Conference in Summer 1956. This conference started AI as a field. (Minsky later joined McCarthy at MIT in 1959.)
In 1958, he proposed the advice taker, which inspired later work on question-answering and logic programming.
McCarthy invented Lisp in the late 1950s. Based on the lambda calculus, Lisp soon became the programming language of choice for AI applications after its publication in 1960.