Close Parenthesis

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

“Uncle John” McCarthy has passed away at the age of 84. He coined the term artificial intelligence in 1955 and went on to develop the iconic AI language Lisp over the next few years.

His Stanford home page includes a list of his sayings, which do not restrict themselves to technical subjects:

As the Chinese say, 1001 words is worth more than a picture. — JMC

During the second millenium, the Earthmen complained a lot. — JMC

When there’s a will to fail, obstacles can be found. — JMC 1983 March

There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come.
— Victor Hugo
Yes, even if it’s a bad idea.

Everyone needs computer programming. It will be the way we speak to the servants.
— JMC, 1966. Alas, it didn’t come to pass.

Personal dishonesty is not needed to produce a dishonest business plan or research proposal. Wishful thinking suffices. — JMC 1986

People prefer dealing with machinery to dealing with bureaucracies. — JMC 1986

Your denial of the importance of objectivity amounts to announcing your intention to lie to us. No-one should believe anything you say. — JMC 1986

You are eager to defend rationality against the creationists. Fine. Are you also willing to defend it against the environmentalists? — JMC 1989

Cynicism is a cheap substitute for sophistication. You don’t actually have to learn anything. — JMC 1989

We can’t afford to waste money on crossing the ocean, Mr. Columbus, when Spanish society has so many unsolved problems. Why, most of those Jews and Moors we have converted aren’t really sincere Catholics, and a lack of money to hire more inquisitors has put their questionings so far behind that many have died of natural causes before the Holy Inquisition ever got around to them. — JMC 1993


  1. David Foster says:

    Sorry to see this. In addition to his work on artificial intelligence, McCarthy was one of the pioneers of computer time-sharing.

    Here’s something he wrote in 1970 about the future of the home information terminal.

  2. Kent says:

    I’m surprised you omitted his most famous saying: “Let’s get it on!”

  3. Isegoria says:

    I’m beginning to think there may be more than one John McCarthy. (I can’t imagine the audience for Lisp-meets-MMA humor extends much beyond this blog.)

  4. Kent says:

    Thank you for noticing. ;-)

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