John McCarthy, inventor of the LISP programming language and a pioneer of Artificial Intelligence, died a few hours ago.
He coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” in 1955, and went on to found departments to study AI at Stanford & MIT.
The LISP programming language is the second oldest computer language still in use. The oldest, FORTRAN, spawned the procedural languages BASIC, C etc., that are in widespread use today. Each year brings new variations and derivations.
LISP, however, was different. It was inherently complete. The syntax did not need to be altered to accommodate new programming constructs or methodology. It could be extended, in LISP, to accommodate such developments as garbage collection, object-oriented programming, functional programming, logic programming, type checking, concurrent programming, distributed programming and in fact any new programming methodology. Indeed, most of these new programming methodologies were prototyped in LISP.
The LISP of the 1960s is immediately recognisable to a LISP programmer of today. But all the computer languages of today owe many of their features to features that were first developed in LISP.
Skip to 16:37 for an interview with John McCarthy: