John McCarthy – Pioneer of AI

You may have heard that John McCarthy died this week. See

John was an early pioneer of AI, inventor of Lisp, and indeed originator of the term “AI” in 1956. See It is good to see how broad and expansive John McCarthy’s vision for computing was:

From Wikipedia: In 1961, he was the first to publicly suggest (in a speech given to celebrate MIT’s centennial) that computer time-sharing technology might lead to a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold through the utility business model (like water or electricity).

Take a look also at his short sci-fi story “The Robot and the Baby” for some great fiction (or is it?) about future robotics. See

I worked with John both before and after his formal retirement, and it was a very enjoyable experience. His interest in formalising the notion of “context” was his most recent work which I spoke to him about. The ability to “assert that the proposition p is true in the context c” is a key to much of what we do in planning… and my own work some 30 years ago was involved with something I called “functions in context” that had similar aims.

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