We note the death on Monday of John McCarthy at the age of 84. McCarthy was a pioneer in the computerized simulation of human thinking - what we now call artificial intelligence. McCarthy came to MIT in 1958 and cofounded the Artificial Intelligence Laboratory with Marvin Minsky.
His experience there led him to create the LISP programming language, which became standard for AI research. And while programming languages have flourished in recent decades, we think it significant that LISP is still in use. Proof? The LISP 1.5 Programmer's Manual, which McCarthy wrote and we published in 1962, is still in print. Still sells, too.
He was an influential early thinker on what would become electronic commerce as well. One of his students at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory was Whit Diffie, who would go on to develop the foundational ideas of public-key cryptography, now the basic security mechanism underlying e-commerce.
In an obituary published by Stanford, McCarthy's colleague Edward Feigenbaum said that his colleage "could be blunt, but John was always kind and generous with his time, especially with students, and he was sharp until the end. He was always focused on the future. Always inventing, inventing, inventing. That was John."
He wil be missed.