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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.[1] 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 received many accolades and honors, such as the Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize.

Early life and education[edit]

John McCarthy was born in Boston, Massachusetts on September 4, 1927 to an Irish immigrant father and a Lithuanian Jewish immigrant mother,[2] 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.[3] His mother died in 1957.[4]

McCarthy was exceptionally intelligent, and graduated from Belmont High School two years early.[5] 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.[6] 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.[7]

It was at Caltech that he attended a lecture by John von Neumann that inspired his future endeavors.

McCarthy initially did graduate studies at Caltech, but moved to Princeton University. He received a Ph.D. in Mathematics from Princeton University in 1951 as a student of Solomon Lefschetz.

Academic career[edit]

After short-term appointments at Princeton and Stanford University, McCarthy became an assistant professor at Dartmouth in 1955.

A year later, McCarthy moved to MIT as a research fellow in the autumn of 1956.

In 1962, McCarthy became a full professor at Stanford, where he remained until his retirement in 2000. By the end of his early days at MIT he was already affectionately referred to as "Uncle John" by his students.[8]

McCarthy championed mathematical logic for artificial intelligence.

Contributions in computer science[edit]

John McCarthy is one of the "founding fathers" of artificial intelligence, together with 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.[5][9] (Marvin 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.

John 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.[10]

In 1958, McCarthy served on an ACM Ad hoc Committee on Languages that became part of the committee that designed ALGOL 60. In August 1959 he proposed the use of recursion and conditional expressions, which became part of ALGOL.[11]

Around 1959, he invented so-called "garbage collection" methods to solve problems in Lisp.[12][13]

He helped to motivate the creation of Project MAC at MIT when he worked there.

At Stanford University, he helped establish the Stanford AI Laboratory, for many years a friendly rival to Project MAC.

In 1961, he was perhaps the first to suggest publicly the idea of utility computing, in a speech given to celebrate MIT's centennial: that computer time-sharing technology might result in a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity).[14] This idea of a computer or information utility was very popular during the late 1960s, but faded by the mid-1990s. However, since 2000, the idea has resurfaced in new forms (see application service provider, grid computing, and cloud computing).

In 1966, McCarthy and his team at Stanford wrote a computer program used to play a series of chess games with counterparts in the Soviet Union; McCarthy's team lost two games and drew two games (see Kotok-McCarthy).

From 1978 to 1986, McCarthy developed the circumscription method of non-monotonic reasoning.

McCarthy is also credited with developing an early form of time-sharing. His colleague Lester Earnest told the Los Angeles Times: "The Internet would not have happened nearly as soon as it did except for the fact that John initiated the development of time-sharing systems. We keep inventing new names for time-sharing. It came to be called servers.... Now we call it cloud computing. That is still just time-sharing. John started it."[5]

In 1982 he seems to have originated the idea of the "space fountain", a type of tower extending into space and kept vertical by the outward force of a stream of pellets propelled from Earth along a sort of conveyor belt which returns the pellets to Earth (payloads would ride the conveyor belt upward).[15]

Other activities[edit]

McCarthy often commented on world affairs on the Usenet forums. Some of his ideas can be found in his sustainability Web page,[16] which is "aimed at showing that human material progress is desirable and sustainable". McCarthy was a serious book reader, an optimist, and a staunch supporter of free speech. His best Usenet interaction is visible in rec.arts.books archives. And John actively attended SF Bay Area dinners in Palo Alto of r.a.b. readers called rab-fests. John went on to defend free speech criticism involving European ethnic jokes at Stanford.

McCarthy saw the importance of mathematics and mathematics education. His Usenet.sig for years was, "He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense"; his license plate cover read, similarly, "Do the arithmetic or be doomed to talk nonsense."[17][18] He advised 30 PhD graduates.[19]

His 2001 short story "The Robot and the Baby"[20] farcically explored the question of whether robots should have (or simulate having) emotions, and anticipated aspects of Internet culture and social networking that have become increasingly prominent during ensuing decades.[21]

Personal life[edit]

McCarthy was married three times. His second wife was Vera Watson, a programmer and mountaineer who died in 1978 attempting to scale Annapurna I as part of an all-women expedition organised by Arlene Blum. He later married Carolyn Talcott, a computer scientist at Stanford and later SRI International.[22][23]

McCarthy considered himself an atheist.[24][25] Raised as a Communist, he became a conservative Republican after a two-day visit to Czechoslovakia in 1968 after the Soviet invasion.[26] McCarthy died at his home in Stanford on October 24, 2011.[27]

Philosophy of artificial intelligence[edit]

In 1979 McCarthy wrote an article[28] entitled "Ascribing Mental Qualities to Machines." In it he wrote, "Machines as simple as thermostats can be said to have beliefs, and having beliefs seems to be a characteristic of most machines capable of problem solving performance." In 1980 the philosopher John Searle responded with his famous Chinese Room Argument,[29][9] disagreeing with McCarthy and taking the stance that machines cannot have beliefs simply because they are not conscious (he says that machines lack 'intentionality', a term commonly used in the philosophy of mind). A vast amount of literature has been written in support of one side or the other.

Awards and honors[edit]

Major publications[edit]

  • McCarthy, J. 1959. "Programs with Common Sense" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 4, 2013). In Proceedings of the Teddington Conference on the Mechanization of Thought Processes, 756-91. London: Her Majesty's Stationery Office.
  • McCarthy, J. 1960. "Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine" at the Wayback Machine (archived October 4, 2013). Communications of the ACM 3(4):184-195.
  • McCarthy, J. 1963a "A basis for a mathematical theory of computation". In Computer Programming and formal systems. North-Holland.
  • McCarthy, J. 1963b. Situations, actions, and causal laws. Technical report, Stanford University.
  • McCarthy, J., and Hayes, P. J. 1969. Some philosophical problems from the standpoint of artificial intelligence at the Wayback Machine (archived August 25, 2013). In Meltzer, B., and Michie, D., eds., Machine Intelligence 4. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press. 463-502.
  • McCarthy, J. 1977. "Epistemological problems of artificial intelligence". In IJCAI, 1038-1044.
  • McCarthy, J. 1980. "Circumscription: A form of non-monotonic reasoning". Artificial Intelligence 13(1-2):23-79.
  • McCarthy, J. 1986. "Applications of circumscription to common sense reasoning". Artificial Intelligence 28(1):89-116.
  • McCarthy, J. 1990. "Generality in artificial intelligence". In Lifschitz, V., ed., Formalizing Common Sense. Ablex. 226-236.
  • McCarthy, J. 1993. "Notes on formalizing context". In IJCAI, 555-562.
  • McCarthy, J., and Buvac, S. 1997. "Formalizing context: Expanded notes". In Aliseda, A.; van Glabbeek, R.; and Westerstahl, D., eds., Computing Natural Language. Stanford University. Also available as Stanford Technical Note STAN-CS-TN-94-13.
  • McCarthy, J. 1998. "Elaboration tolerance". In Working Papers of the Fourth International Symposium on Logical formalizations of Commonsense Reasoning, Commonsense-1998.
  • Costello, T., and McCarthy, J. 1999. "Useful counterfactuals". Electronic Transactions on Artificial Intelligence 3(A):51-76
  • McCarthy, J. 2002. "Actions and other events in situation calculus". In Fensel, D.; Giunchiglia, F.; McGuinness, D.; and Williams, M., eds., Proceedings of KR-2002, 615-628.

See also[edit]


  1. ^Conversations On the Leading Edge of Knowledge and Discovery, with Jeffrey Mishlove
  2. ^Shasha, Dennis; Lazere, Cathy (1998). Out of Their Minds: The Lives and Discoveries of 15 Great Computer Scientists. Springer. p. 23. Retrieved 2016-02-27. 
  3. ^"Leading academic who coined the term 'artificial intelligence'". The Irish Times. Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  4. ^"History of Computers and Computing, Birth of the modern computer, Software history, LISP of John McCarthy". Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  5. ^ abcWoo, Elaine (October 28, 2011). John McCarthy dies at 84; the father of artificial intelligence. Los Angeles Times.
  6. ^Hayes, Patrick J.; Morgenstern, Leora (2007). "On John McCarthy's 80th Birthday, in Honor of his Contributions". AI Magazine. Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence. 28 (4): 93–102. Retrieved November 24, 2010. 
  7. ^Lester Earnest. "A. M. Turing award: John McCarthy, United States - 1971". ACM. Retrieved September 5, 2012. 
  8. ^Steven Levy, Hackers, Heroes of the Computer Revolution,, p. 34 
  9. ^ abRoberts, Jacob (2016). "Thinking Machines: The Search for Artificial Intelligence". Distillations. 2 (2): 14–23. Retrieved 17 February 2017. 
  10. ^McCarthy, John (1960). "Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine". CACM. 3 (4): 184–195. doi:10.1145/367177.367199. 
  11. ^McCarthy, John (August 1959). "Letter to the editor". Communications of the ACM. 2 (8): 2–3. 
  12. ^"Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine". Communications of the ACM. April 1960. Retrieved March 29, 2009. 
  13. ^"Recursive functions of symbolic expressions and their computation by machine, Part I". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  14. ^Garfinkel, Simson (1999). Abelson, Hal, ed. Architects of the Information Society, Thirty-Five Years of the Laboratory for Computer Science at MIT. Cambridge: MIT Press. p. 1. ISBN 978-0-262-07196-3. 
  15. ^McCarthy, John (August 1, 1994). "Re: SPACE BRIDGE SHORT". Posting in Usenet newsgroup:
  16. ^McCarthy, John (February 4, 1995). "Progress and its sustainability". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  17. ^"He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense" (Usenet newsgroup sci.environment search). 
  18. ^"John McCarthy, 84, Dies; Computer Design Pioneer". The New York Times. October 26, 2011. 
  19. ^"Tree of John McCarthy students for the Computer History Exhibits". April 21, 2012. Archived from the original on December 9, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  20. ^McCarthy, John (June 28, 2001). "The Robot and the Baby". Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved November 24, 2013. 
  21. ^Thomson, Cask J. (October 26, 2011). "The Death of TRUE Tech Innovators D. Ritchie & J. McCarthy – Yet the Death of Steve Jobs Overshadows All.". WordsWithMeaning blog.
  22. ^Markoff, John (October 25, 2011). "John McCarthy, 84, Dies; Computer Design Pioneer". The New York Times. 
  23. ^"Biography of Carolyn Talcott". Stanford University. Archived from the original on 2013-12-02. 
  24. ^"About John McCarthy". Stanford University. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2013. 
  25. ^McCarthy, John (March 7, 2003). "Commentary on World, US, and scientific affairs". Stanford University. Archived from the original on October 4, 2013. Retrieved February 1, 2013.  
  26. ^Earnest, Les. "Biographies of John McCarthy". Stanford University. Retrieved 14 February 2016. 
  27. ^Myers, Andrew (October 25, 2011). "Stanford's John McCarthy, seminal figure of artificial intelligence, dies at 84". Stanford University News. Retrieved October 26, 2011. 
  28. ^McCarthy, J. (1979) Ascribing mental qualities to machines. In: Philosophical perspectives in artificial intelligence, ed. M. Ringle. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press.
  29. ^Searle, John. R. (1980) Minds, brains, and programs. Behavioral and Brain Sciences 3 (3): 417-457
  30. ^"President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details 1990". National Science Foundation. February 14, 2006. Retrieved September 27, 2012. 
  31. ^CHM. "John McCarthy — CHM Fellow Award Winner". Retrieved March 30, 2015. [1]
  32. ^"AI's Hall of Fame"(PDF). IEEE Intelligent Systems. IEEE Computer Society. 26 (4): 5–15. 2011. doi:10.1109/MIS.2011.64. 
  33. ^"IEEE Computer Society Magazine Honors Artificial Intelligence Leaders". August 24, 2011. Retrieved September 18, 2011.  Press release source: PRWeb (Vocus).
  34. ^Beckett, Jamie (December 2, 2012). "Stanford School of Engineering names new engineering heroes". Stanford News. Retrieved December 2, 2012. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Philip J. Hilts, Scientific Temperaments: Three Lives in Contemporary Science, Simon and Schuster, 1982. Lengthy profiles of John McCarthy, physicist Robert R. Wilson and geneticist Mark Ptashne.
  • Pamela McCorduck, Machines Who Think: a personal inquiry into the history and prospects of artificial intelligence, 1979, second edition 2004.
  • Pamela Weintraub, ed., The Omni Interviews, New York: Ticknor and Fields, 1984. Collected interviews originally published in Omni magazine; contains an interview with McCarthy.

External links[edit]

  • McCarthy's Stanford home page at the Wayback Machine (archived October 11, 2013).
  • John McCarthy at DBLP Bibliography Server
  • John McCarthy at the Mathematics Genealogy Project
  • John McCarthy at the AI Genealogy Project.
  • Celebration of John McCarthy's Accomplishments at Stanford University.
  • Interview with Guy Steele conducted at OOPSLA 2008; Set of interviews:
  • Oral history interview with John McCarthy at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. McCarthy discusses his role in the development of time-sharing at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He also describes his work in artificial intelligence (AI) funded by the Advanced Research Projects Agency, including logic-based AI (Lisp) and robotics.
  • Oral history interview with Marvin Minsky at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Minsky describes artificial intelligence (AI) research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including the work of John McCarthy.
  • Oral history interview with Jack B. Dennis at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Dennis discusses the work of John McCarthy on time-sharing, and the influence of DARPA's Information Processing Techniques Office on the development of time-sharing.
  • Oral history interview with Fernando J. Corbató at Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Corbató discusses computer science research, especially time-sharing, at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), including John McCarthy and research on time-sharing.
  • John McCarthy at Find a Grave
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir

Douglas Crimp (1944) is an art critic and Fanny Knapp Allen Professor of Art History and Professor of Visual and Cultural Studies at the University of Rochester. He was the curator of the landmark Pictures exhibition at Artists Space, New York, in 1977 and, from 1977-1990 an editor of the quarterly journal October. With Lynne Cooke, he organized the exhibition Mixed Use, Manhattan: Photography and Related Practices 1970s to the Present for the Reina Sofía in Madrid in the summer of 2010, and he was a member of the curatorial team for the 2015 Greater New York exhibition at MoMA PS1.



  • with Adam Rolston, AIDS Demo Graphics, Seattle: Bay Press, 1990, 141 pp, OL.
  • On the Museum’s Ruins, MIT Press, 1993, xix+348 pp. With photographs by Louise Lawler.
    • Auf den Ruinen des Museums. Über Photographie, das Museum und die Postmoderne, trans. Rolf Braumeis, Dresden: Verlag der Kunst, 1996, 440 pp. (German)
    • Sobre as ruínas do museu, trans. Fernando Santos, São Paulo: Martins Fontes, 2005, 303 pp. (Brazilian Portuguese)
    • Na ruinakh muzeya, trans. Ivan Aksenov and Karen Sarkisov, Moscow: V-A-C Press, 2015, 431 pp. (Russian)
  • Melancholia and Moralism: Essays on AIDS and Queer Politics, MIT Press, 2002, 319 pp. Essays challenging the increasing denial of the AIDS crisis and the rise of conservative gay politics.
  • Imágenes, trans. Victor Manuel Rodriguez, Bogotá: Universidad Nacional de Colombia-Sede Bogotá, 2003, 188 pp. (Spanish)
  • Before Pictures, University of Chicago Press, 2016, 288 pp. tells the story of Crimp’s life as a young gay man and art critic in New York City during the late 1960s through the 1970s; part biography and part cultural history. [2]


  • editor, Pictures, New York: Artists Space, 1977, 30 pp.
  • editor, October 43: "AIDS: Cultural Analysis, Cultural Activism", MIT Press, 1987. Introduction.
  • editor, with Lynne Cooke, Mixed Use, Manhattan: Photography and Related Practices, 1970s to the Present, Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, 2010, 304 pp. Crimp's essay in Spanish. [3](English)/(Spanish)

Book chapters, papers, essays[edit]

  • "Pictures", in Pictures, ed. Douglas Crimp, New York: Committe for the Visual Arts, 1977, pp 3-29; repr. in Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, ed. Brian Wallis, New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art, and Boston: D.R. Godine, 1984, pp 175-187; repr. inX-tra 8:1 (Fall 2005), pp 17-30, HTML.
  • "Pictures", October 8, Spring 1979, MIT Press, pp 75-88, ARG. "The following essay takes its point of departure from the catalogue text for Pictures; but it focuses on different issues and addresses an aesthetic phenomenon implicitly extending to many more artists than the original exhibition included." [4]
  • "On the Museum's Ruins", October 13, Summer 1980, MIT Press, pp 41-57; repr. inThe Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, ed. Hal Foster, Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press, 1983, pp 43-56; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 44-64. [5]
  • "The End of Painting", October 16: "Art World Follies", Spring 1981, pp 69-86; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 84-107.
  • "Fassbinder, Franz, Fox, Elvira, Erwin, Armin, and All the Others", October 21: "Rainer Werner Fassbinder", Summer 1982, pp 62-81.
  • "Appropriating Appropriation", in Image Scavengers: Photography, ed. Paula Marincola, Institute of Contemporary Art/University of Pennsylvania Press, 1982, pp 27-34; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 126-137.
  • "The Art of Exhibition", October 30, Autumn 1984, pp 49-81; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 236-281.
  • "The Postmodern Museum", Parachute 46, 1987, pp 61-69; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 282-331. [7]
  • "This is Not a Museum of Art", Marcel Broodthaers, Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, and New York: Rizzoli, 1989, pp 71-92; repr. in Crimp, On the Museum's Ruins, 1993, pp 200-235. [8]
  • "The Boys in My Bedroom", Art in America, 1990; repr. in Crimp, Melancholia and Moralism, 2002, pp 151-163.
  • "Face Value", in About Face: Andy Warhol's Portraits, ed. Nicholas Baume, Wadsworth Atheneum/Andy Warhol Museum, 1999, pp 110-125.
  • "Mario Montez, For Shame", in Regarding Sedgwick: Essays on Queer Culture and Critical Theory, eds. Stephen M. Barber and David L. Clark, Routledge, 2002, pp 57-70.
  • "Spacious", October 132, MIT Press, Spring 2010, pp 5-24.
  • "Tacet", in Tacita Dean: Seven Books Grey, Vienna: Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, and Göttingen: Steidl, 2011, pp 31-37. On Tacita Dean's Merce Cunningham films.
  • "El día y la noche de Cindy Sherman / Cindy Sherman Day and Night", in 1000 caras, 0 caras, 1 rostro / 1000 Faces, 0 Faces, 1 Face: Cindy Sherman, Thomas Ruff, Frank Montero, Madrid: Fundación Telefónica & La Fábrica, 2011, pp 17-34. (Spanish)/(English)
  • "Relocating Rosas", in Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Work/Travail/Arbeid, vol. 3, ed. Elena Filipovic, Brussels: Mercatorfonds, Wiels, 2015, pp 81-103.


  • "There Is No Final Picture: A Conversation between Philipp Kaiser and Douglas Crimp", in Painting on the Move, Basel: Kunsthalle Basel, 2002, pp 171-179.
  • Tina Takemoto, "The Melancholia of AIDS: Interview with Douglas Crimp", Art Journal 62:4, Winter 2003, pp 80-90.
  • Mathias Danbolt, "Front Room Back Room: An Interview with Douglas Crimp", Trikster: Nordic Queer Journal 2, 2008.
  • "Douglas Crimp with Jarrett Earnest", The Brooklyn Rail, 4 Oct 2016.
  • "The New French Culture: An Interview with Guy Hocquenghem", October 19, Winter 1981, pp 105-117.
  • with Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss, "A Conversation with Hans Haacke", October 30, Autumn 1984, pp 23-48.
  • with Rosalyn Deutsche and Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, "A Conversation with Krzysztof Wodiczko", October 38, Autumn 1986, pp 23-51.
  • "The Second Epidemic: Amber Hollibaugh, Mitchell Karp, and Katy Taylor Interviewed by Douglas Crimp", October 43: "AIDS: Cultural Analysis/Cultural Activism", Winter 1987, pp 127-142.
  • "Prominence Given, Authority Taken: An Interview with Louise Lawler", Grey Room 4, Summer 2001, pp 70-81. [9]


See also[edit]



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