CS2106 in the news: John McCarthy (1927 – 2011)

We lost another pioneer in computing in October.  John McCarthy is well know for his work in AI and LISP, but he has a close connection to the development of operating systems — John McCarthy is one of the earliest developer of time-sharing mechanism.


Lester Earnest first encountered McCarthy at MIT while working on the government’s Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) defense system — an early computer network that allowed multiple users to access the system at the same time — and according to Earnest, SAGE inspired McCarthy’s work on time-sharing. “He was first to come up with an idea of how to do time-sharing in a general purpose way, as opposed to special purpose,” Earnest says.

You can read this article by John McCarthy that describes his early involvement in development of time-sharing system.

11 thoughts on “CS2106 in the news: John McCarthy (1927 – 2011)

  1. “Greenspun’s Tenth Rule: Any sufficiently complicated C or Fortran program contains an ad hoc informally-specified bug-ridden slow implementation of half of Common Lisp.”
    As quoted by Paul Graham.

    This is truly a sad month.

  2. yea truly agree.

    Anyway I heard this on twitter…
    And by inventing Lisp, inspired Alan Kay who (with others) invented Smalltalk, which inspired Steve Jobs…

    To sum up, steve jobs’ death was overrated.

      • Haha you’re right, he’s a visionary. Gotta admit he is one who can wield technology and make it usable for the masses.

        Nevertheless, to quote (or rather to misquote) Isaac Newton, Steve Jobs seen further because he stood on the shoulders of Dennis Ritchie and John McCarthy.

        Haha, wolfram…No wonder Siri can do a direct search on wolfram alpha. Probably it was Jobs’ plan to fight against google by teaming up with wolfram.

  3. John McCarthy had a more direct link to Steve Jobs, according to NY Times.


    “In 1972, the laboratory drew national attention when Stewart Brand, the founder of The Whole Earth Catalog, wrote about it in Rolling Stone magazine under the headline “SPACEWAR: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among the Computer Bums.” The article evoked the esprit de corps of a group of researchers who had been freed to create their own virtual worlds, foreshadowing the emergence of cyberspace. “Ready or not, computers are coming to the people,” Mr. Brand wrote.

    Dr. McCarthy had begun inviting the Homebrew Computer Club, a Silicon Valley hobbyist group, to meet at the Stanford lab. Among its growing membership were Steven P. Jobs and Stephen Wozniak, who would go on to found Apple. Mr. Wozniak designed his first personal computer prototype, the Apple 1, to share with his Homebrew friends.”

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