John McCarthy, Man behind Garbage Collection

John McCarthy was one of the most influential Computer Scientists in 1950s and a Professor at Stanford University for nearly 38 years. He is best known for:

  • Developed LISP Programming Language
  • Inventing Garbage Collection (which is widely used and popularized by Java)
  • Inventing the word "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) and is one of the founding members of the domain
  • First person to propose the idea of Utility/ Cloud Computing publically
  • Contributed greatly to ALGOL Programming Language


John McCarthy, a Computer pioneer in 1950s

Education qualification of John McCarthy:

  • Graduated from Belmont High School 2 years early
  • Entry into California Institute of Technology in 1944
    • Skipped 2 years of Mathematics course (as he knew it)
    • Suspended for not attending Physical Education classes
    • Completed Bachelor of Science in Mathematics in 1948
  • PhD in Mathematics from Princeton University in 1951

Major awards received:

  • Turing Award in 1971
  • Kyoto Prize in 1988
  • Benjamin Franklin Medal in Computer and Cognitive Science in 2003
  • IEEE Intelligent Systems AI's Hall of Fame in 2011
  • 2012 Stanford Engineering Heroes

Timeline: 4th September 1927 – 24th October 2011

John McCarthy link with Artificial Intelligence

John McCarthy coined the term "Artificial Intelligence" in 1955 and he is one of the founding members of AI.

John McCarthy was the organizer of Dartmouth conference (took place in 1956) which is known as the birthplace of Artificial Intelligence. He was an Assistant Professor at Dartmouth University at the time.

His team at Stanford University developed a program to play Chess named Kotok-McCarthy in 1966 and put it to test with a battle with programs from Soviet Union. Following were the results:

  • Lost 2 rounds
  • Draw in 2 rounds

Though his program did not win, it was the beginning which paved the way to stronger programs like Watson.

His programming Language LISP was the preferred language for AI applications since its release in 1960s.

His other major contributions to AI include:

  • Motivating the creation of Project MAC at Stanford University
  • Proposed the idea of Advice Taker, a program which influenced the creation of Logic Programming

John McCarthy developed LISP

John McCarthy developed a programming language based on Lambda Calculus which he named as LISP. He developed it in late 1950s and was formally released in 1960.

LISP was the preferred language for AI applications since its release in 1960s.

LISP is the 2nd oldest High-level programming language that is still in wideuse today (2020s) even after 60 years. The oldest language is Fortran which is older than LISP just by 1 year.

John McCarthy came up with Garbage Collection

John McCarthy is the inventor of Garbage Collection. He developed several Garbage Collection methods in 1959 for use in his programming language LISP.

Learn about different Garbage Collection algorithms

John McCarthy proposed Utility Computing

John McCarthy was the first person to propose the idea of Utility Computing publically in 1961 at a conference at MIT which was focused on time-sharing systems in which he contributed.

The idea of Utility Computing was lost since then but remerged in early 2000s when Utility Computing became a common business option and several companies entered the market.

Utility Computing is the domain of computing where a certain set of Computing resources is shared among multiple users usually as a service. Common examples include hosting services, distributed computing, cloud computing and much more.

John McCarthy was a visionary and his ideas on Computer Science where ahead of his time. His contributions are the pillars of modern Computer Science and is in wide use even today.