Saturday, May 03, 2014

John McCarthy, Guru of Artificial Intelligence - Read about him in Resonance

Everyone in computer science knows a lot about John McCarthy and his contributions.  LISP was the first programming language I fell in love with. His contributions to AI and computer science are well-known, but I confess that I have never read his biography so far, but I caught up a bit recently when Professor V Rajaraman wrote a very interesting article about John McCarthy in the March 2014 issue of Resonance, which is available online. Visit
I downloaded the PDF version of the article and read it. As a bonus, there is another article in that issue by Dr Raman Chandrasekar on the famous AI system named “Jeopardy!” which competes in TV quiz programs:!

Let me offer a few tidbits to give you a feel for Rajaraman’s article. He mentions McCarthy’s visit to IIT Kanpur and says it inspired a number of students to take up computer science and that one of them was Narayana Murthy! He also mentions that the parents of McCarthy had been immigrants to the US, one from Ireland and one from Lithuania. Both had been members of the American Communist Party.

McCarthy had done seminal work in Artificial Intelligence, brought researchers together in the beginning of work in the field; no wonder Rajaraman calls him Father of Artificial Intelligence. McCarthy spent three years serving as Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the Stanford University, but was not given tenure! I got reminded of young colleagues in India who are very interested in inter-disciplinary research of potentially great significance, but are scared that promotion committees may not do them justice if they “stray” beyond the mainstream!  

I do not wish to say any more about McCarthy’s ideas and work in this blog post. I only wanted to attract a few more readers to enjoy Prof Rajaraman article and to benefit from it.  He has done a great job of elucidating the important ideas that McCarthy had worked on.

Srinivasan Ramani 

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