John McCarthy

John McCarthy, an American computer scientist.

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October 2011 has not proved to be a good month for computer pioneers, and the death of John McCarthy, so soon after that of Dennis Ritchie means we have lost two of the most significant and influential of all.

McCarthy was the designer of LISP which, with FORTRAN, holds the record of the oldest living high level computer language. LISP is the grandparent of today’s functional computer languages and still has many fanatical supporters in its own right.

(Scheme is the LISP dialect used in Structure and Interpretation of Computer Programs – a book I am currently re-reading.)

Like Ritchie, though, it would be wrong to single out McCarthy for only one achievement: because it neglects the rest, such as his pioneering work on artificial intelligence (his own term) and his formulation of the concept we now know as cloud computing.