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John McCarthy, artificial intelligence pioneer, dies at age 84

John McCarthy, the inventor of programming language Lisp and a pioneer in “artificial intelligence” technology, died Monday night. He was 84.


John McCarthy served on the Stanford faculty for nearly 40 years. He coined the term “artificial intelligence” in 1956. (Image via Flickr user Null0 )

Mashable reports that McCarthy was also one of the first people to propose “selling computing power through a utility business model,” in 1961. While the idea didn’t gain much traction at the time, it’s now coming back in a big way with the use of grid and cloud computing.

Tributes to McCarthy poured in Tuesday, some from posters on Usenet, where McCarthy was an active presence, or from technology writers like Steven Levy, who wrote on Twitter: “Broke news to Siri that John McCarthy... died. She took it well but we humans will miss him.”

McCarthy’s Web site also has a wide following. There the scientist published his Stanford lectures, thoughts on the future of robots, and science fiction writing.

But McCarthy’s most widely-read work is likely his proposal for artificial intelligence, presented at Dartmouth in 1955, in which he wrote that “every aspect of learning or any other feature of intelligence can in principle be so precisely described that a machine can be made to simulate it.”

Below, watch as Stanford’s Andrew Ng shows McCarthy’s ideas come to life:

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