Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
AI Programming News

John McCarthy, Discoverer of Lisp, Has Passed Away 354

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the lisp-proven-not-to-be-key-of-eternal-life dept.
The first of a few submitters, szo sent in an early report that John McCarthy passed early yesterday. Paul Graham (among others) confirmed: the news was true. And so, shortly after a fellow founder of countless language descendants, goes the founder of the Lisp tree at the age of 84.
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

John McCarthy, Discoverer of Lisp, Has Passed Away

Comments Filter:
  • by agentgonzo (1026204) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:10AM (#37829740)
    I think you mean creator or inventor. It's not like the Lisp programming language was just sat out in the wilds of Chile under a rock waiting to be found by an archaeologist.
    • The way some Lisp programmers gush over the language, you might get that impression. (Not that I have anything against Lisp or John.)
    • by erroneus (253617) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:19AM (#37829812) Homepage

      Yes, discoverer. Lisp is programming. And programming is math. Math is all around us... in the tree, the rock. Math surrounds us and binds us all together. Does this mean Lisp obeys the programmer? Partially, but the will of the math works through the programmer as well.

      So death to software patents.

      (how's that for an incomprehensible morning hours post?)

      • You discover new math. You invent notation. Programming languages are the latter.
        • by Sique (173459)

          You can also invent mathematics.

          For instance, to describe how the real numbers are somehow "complete" and contain not only algebraically calculable numbers but also transcendent numbers, there were different ideas floating around, which lead different mathematicians to invent different approaches to describe this "completeness". We have Bolzano's and Weierstrass' approach (bounded sequences and convergent sub-sequences), we have Cauchy-sequences and we have Dedekind cuts. All three were not discovered, but

        • So if I change the lexical analyzer, I invent a new language? I am going to be up to me neck in patents!
      • by LWATCDR (28044)

        How about author of Lisp? One could even say creator of. Intentor implies that Lisp is an invention which could be protected under patient law while author or creator implies that it could have been protected under copyright law .

    • by sapphire wyvern (1153271) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:21AM (#37829822)

      Actually, the natives of Lisp already knew all about it. McCarthy was just the first person to show up with a flag, guns, germs & steel to claim Lisp for his homeland's empire.

      So you're quite right... discoverer is a very patriarchal, hegemonic colonialist way of describing McCarthy. /leftist historian mode :P

    • by mapkinase (958129)

      I have an impression that some of the modern languages might have been found in that way...

    • by vlm (69642) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:22AM (#37829832)

      I think you mean creator or inventor. It's not like the Lisp programming language was just sat out in the wilds of Chile under a rock waiting to be found by an archaeologist.

      He was an old time computer scientist, publications with titles like "A basis for a mathematical theory of computation". Hard core math.

      Philosophically, you don't "create" or "invent" math you discover it. Logical concepts exist independent of who wrote a paper about them first. Take two 256 bit random prime numbers, multiply them, and you have not "created" or "invented" the result but merely discovered it, or rephrased discovered its two factors.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        Arguably math consists of both invention and discovery:

        You invent the axioms; but you then discover the necessary implications of those axioms.
        • You invent the axioms

          Maybe, but I do not think that Euclid sat down and invented his postulates. More likely he sat down and observed various shapes and geometric properties in the world around him, and then formalized what he had observed (or perhaps many people had done so over a period of time, and Euclid wrote down the formal notions that had developed).

          • It is true that some areas of mathematics overlap pretty well with observation, and many of those areas had a body of math that(historically speaking) was definitely discovered empirically attached to them long before some more abstract axiomatic system special-cased them. We only have the historical record needed to prove it for some of the; but it seems overwhelmingly likely that people were using math well before they would have recognized the notion of "math", and limited capabilities for processing cer
      • by emilper (826945)

        so, philosophy no longer studied for a science diploma ?

      • Philosophically, you don't "create" or "invent" math you discover it.

        That is not universally agreed upon by philosophers:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philosophy_of_mathematics [wikipedia.org]

        • I'm a philosopher---by education and in my current job, not self-proclaimed or as a dubious honorary title---and I can hardly imagine anything philosophers could ever universally agree upon.

          Perhaps you ought to relax your criterion a bit?

          • Fair enough, but the post I was replying to seemed to claim as a matter of fact that mathematics is discovered. I was merely pointing out that the debate is still active, and that defending the "McCarthy invented Lisp!" statement needs to be backed up by more than "Philosophers say that math is discovered!"
          • by Arlet (29997)

            If people could agree on it, it would be science, not philosophy.

            • Not quite... just looking at wikipedia for interpretations of quantum physics will give you an idea of how much disagreement can be between scientists. Or on how the little world really is: I have an acquaintance whose wet dream is busting string theory, something he says is "delusional". All science because they have scientific knowledge, yet they all disagree :) .

          • by cobrausn (1915176)
            Yeah, I know. It's difficult enough to get you guys to sit around the dinner table without starving to death or fighting over forks.
      • by corbettw (214229)

        Take two 256 bit random prime numbers, multiply them, and you have not "created" or "invented" the result but merely discovered it, or rephrased discovered its two factors.

        Ah, but if you come up with a novel way to generate those random numbers, along with a novel way to store their representations for future use, then you've invented something and not merely discovered it.

        • Ah, but if you come up with a novel way to generate those random numbers, along with a novel way to store their representations for future use, then you've invented something and not merely discovered it.

          Consider, as a counterexample, the FFT multiplication algorithm. It is based on the observation that integer multiplication involves computing a convolution, and that the pointwise product in the frequency domain is equal to convolution in the "time" domain. The algorithm is only an "invention" if the mathematics the underlie it were "invented," and so this just returns to the question of whether or not mathematics itself is invented or discovered.

          • by Jamu (852752)
            Surely some parts of mathematics are discovered. I don't think e^i(pi) = -1 was invented for example. Axioms and the proofs might be invented, but the truths of those axioms and theorems are discovered. At least for any reasonable definition of discovery.
      • If there is any "discoverer" involved in this, it's Alonzo Church when he invented (or you could argue, found) the Lambda Calculus [wikipedia.org]. That's hardcore math. All of the functional languages, including Lisp, are inventions based upon his work.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by theVarangian (1948970)

      I think you mean creator or inventor. It's not like the Lisp programming language was just sat out in the wilds of Chile under a rock waiting to be found by an archaeologist.

      Actually Lisp is just one of the many languages heavily influenced by Lambda calculus [wikipedia.org] which was introduced by Alonzo Church back in the 1930s and 40s. Back then Lamda calculus it was just another system in mathematical logic that only a few mathematicians and logicians knew or cared about. So in a sense John McCarthy did find it under a rock although not in the wilds of Chile but rather in a scientific paper.

    • by tuffy (10202)
      The idea is that he discovered Lisp could be assembled from seven primitive operators [paulgraham.com], from which the rest of the language could be built. Though I agree that "discoverer" is a bit of a stretch.
    • by Tsingi (870990) <graham.rick@gma i l .com> on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:38AM (#37829976)

      I think you mean creator or inventor. It's not like the Lisp programming language was just sat out in the wilds of Chile under a rock waiting to be found by an archaeologist.

      Actually it was found in a cave in the Pyranees. LISP originally stood for Lost In Spanish Passageways. It was used by early cave men for catching fish. They drew it on the walls carefully concealing the syntax in pictures of Auroks and it remained totally undeciphered for approximately 200,000 years. John McCarthy wandered into a cave after having eaten some soup made from a prehistoric fungus that grows in the area. He was found days later practising tai chi in a nearby stream and went on to write the first modern day LISP interpreter.

    • It was found buried in millions of years of parentheses. and CAR and CDR actually did something useful.

  • Waqs it lying somewhere fully formed and he sort of stumbled upon it? Enquiring minds want to know...
    • by kiehlster (844523)
      Didn't you know? Lisp came about much the same way the Queen's English came about in Great Britain. Soon after, everyone was mandated to take a course on Lisp, further separating us from those people who argue against it's usefulness in the computing world.
    • Lisp can be viewed as a fancy variant of combinator logic, which is a mathematical model of computation. If you believe that mathematics is discovered, then in some sense Lisp was discovered. This may seem a a bit contrived, since one could argue that a C program is a fancy way of expressing a Turing Machine, although Lisp is a little closer to its theoretical underpinnings than C is.
  • So Dennis Ritchie and now John McCarthy....

  • Thanks (Score:5, Informative)

    by V!NCENT (1105021) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:11AM (#37829752)

    (print "World says goodbye")

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:13AM (#37829760)

    .. but then I realized I was missing something.)))

    • I was wondering how long it would take to get a closing parenthesis joke. I'm surprised it took this long, and saddened that there was a speech impediment joke before this.
  • by ath0mic (519762) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:16AM (#37829792)
    If you get a chance, I recommend Out of Their Minds http://cs.nyu.edu/shasha/outofmind.html [nyu.edu] which details some of the amazing feats of McCarthy and some of his contemporaries.
    • Some other blog also pointed out that one of the big "modern" features tons of people rely on was invented in 1959: Garbage collection.

      Say what you will about Lisp (and I'll say lots of good things about it), but practical GC has tremendous impact. Now, we just have to wait for everything else to catch up to all the other 1960s feature sets (both software & hardware). :-)

      • by tuffy (10202)

        Don't forget the even bigger "modern" feature people rely on: if-then-else structures.

        Such a trivial thing we all take for granted, but Lisp invented the "if" expression as a more specialized version of "cond". Algol copied it and the rest is history.

      • To be fair to modern garbage collectors, the algorithm that early Lisp implementations used (Dijkstra) was pretty crappy. Basically, stop the program, walk the entire heap, delete everything else. It introduced long pauses at semi-random intervals and did nothing to avoid memory fragmentation. Generational and incremental collectors made GC generally usable. I think both of these showed up in Lisp before any other language, but neither was present in 1959.
  • Discoverer of Lisp

    Who writes these headlines?

    "Inventor", please. Not "Discoverer".

  • by Inf0phreak (627499) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:23AM (#37829848)

    Obligatory xkcd link [xkcd.com].

    And of course "Eternal Flame" [gnu.org].

    Yes, the capitalisation of my comment's subject is deliberate.

  • Lisp is a fascinating language with honored history in AI, but let me ask you this: is it used now in some important applications? Does modern AI software use Lisp a lot? I am under impression that it is more used in theory than in applications.

    • Lisp is a fascinating language with honored history in AI, but let me ask you this: is it used now in some important applications?

      Emacs not important for you? Except for a small C core, everything is written in Lisp.

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        It is important. I did not know that.

      • Emacs not important for you? Except for a small C core, everything is written in Lisp

        Well, actually EMACS Lisp, which is significantly different to your standard Lisp.

        • It might seem antiquated and weird to us nowadays, but emacs-lisp is actually fairly typical of the dialects of its day [stanford.edu]. It's day was just the late-70s/early-80s. Scheme and Common Lisp did a lot to modernize Lisp, and they just happened to be the first popular dialects on commodity machines so it's easy to forget that Lisp predates all computing paradigms and has given them all a shot at one point or another.

      • by A12m0v (1315511)

        Hence the backronym Eight Megabytes And Constantly Swapping

      • by Anonymous Coward

        Emacs not important for you?

        Not really. I long ago shunned Emacs' overly complex Ctrl-Meta-dgh-Shift-Y-u-F12 for Vi's much simpler y$12jll:%s/off/on/gkp in order to brew my morning tea, walk my dog, open 38 tabs to my morning news sources, and fetch me my pink bunny slippers.

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        Thanks, but I would be more impressed by the list of things familiar to everyone, like somebody pointed in the other comment - EMACS.

        EMACS and autoCAD. I find it interesting that in the latter, Lisp is offered as language of extension and customization. Is this the common trend of Lisp usage: language of extension and customization?

        • Is this the common trend of Lisp usage: language of extension and customization?

          No, Lua, Scheme, and probably also Javascript have become more popular for that purpose over the years. LISP is mostly CommonLisp nowadays. It's very complete, standardized, and some CL implementations like SBCL are very fast, but CL is not very well-suited for extension and customization (at least not for lightweight one). It depends on how you define it, of course; if you include all Scheme dialects and non-standard LISPs out there LISP is definitely alive and used a lot.

          The main problem of CommonLisp is

    • by CODiNE (27417)

      There's game engines written in it. I can't remember right now but there's been a few big ones that used it for their assets and scripts, you could mod them easily.

      • by mapkinase (958129)

        That's how I think the creator of Lisp could be honored: by posting a list of stuff that matters that runs on Lisp.

    • by robbrit (1408421)
      It's not just the language that is important, it's the contributions Lisp made to programming language theory: "if", higher order functions, garbage collection to name a few things. See here [paulgraham.com] for a list of things that the language pioneered.
      • by mapkinase (958129)

        That is what I meant by honored history. It turns out that's not only AI. "if" - this is truly striking. Do you have any reference about this? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conditional_(programming)#If-then.28-else.29 [wikipedia.org] does not provide much insight on the history. Do you mean using "if" as term used for conditional construct? Searching for "if" does not work very well...

        • by tuffy (10202)
          Lisp prehistory [stanford.edu] details its invention of the logical IF expression which conditionally evaluates one side or another depending on an evaluated result. Fortran featured computed gotos, but they were awkward to use by comparison.
    • Lisp is a fascinating language with honored history in AI, but let me ask you this: is it used now in some important applications? Does modern AI software use Lisp a lot? I am under impression that it is more used in theory than in applications.

      Autodesk's AutoCAD [wikipedia.org] relies on AutoLisp [wikipedia.org] for a lot of it's features, and also employs it as a scripting language.

      As for AutoCAD being considered an "important application", it is the de facto standard for CAD work in engineering, particularly in civil/structural engineering.

    • by cduffy (652)

      Clojure [clojure.org] is a modern LISP -- I have a former employer using it for real-time analytics work (where its transactional memory model made it easy to scale to very, very parallel machines -- the older version of the software written with traditional lock-based concurrency fell down at a fraction of the production load we needed to handle with most CPU cores sitting around waiting for locks.

      The biggest thing that interests me, though -- programming in a LISP lends itself to what Rich Hickey calls "hammock-driven

  • by dzfoo (772245) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @07:28AM (#37829892)

    Another one gone!

    I once created a variant of BASIC to run on the C=64 when I was a kid... OMG! Could I be next??

            -dZ.

    • by dingen (958134)
      What is going on is that the time IT has been around is now starting to exceed the average life expectancy minus the age people usually start their careers.
    • by steelfood (895457)

      Even if you were the creator of BASIC itself, you're in no danger of an imminent natural death. However, you may still want to go into hiding. I hear there are a lot of angry former BASIC programmers out there.

  • *closes a Lisp paren (in a real, commercial Lisp application no less) in honor of McCarthy*

  • "Discoverer of Lisp" -- you mean, Lisp was already invented when he "discovered" it?
  • I've had this picture [catonmat.net] on my office door for ages.

    How can I put a black border around that?

  • by Bill_the_Engineer (772575) on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @08:10AM (#37830246)
    ... they just close their last parenthesis.
  • Soon in Slashdot, and following the previous topic of why so many bee trucks crashing or whatever:
    Why so many programming language creators are dying these days?

    • Probably because they were all young and fit when the first programming languages were (invented|discovered|[A-Za-z0-9]+) in the 1950s. That was a long time ago, and people do not live forever. Also, if you are wondering why so many pioneers are dying, it is because the field was new back then; soon programming languages researchers and [A-Za-z0-9]+s will be dying left and right but nobody will care, because the most well-known work happened decades ago.
  • I mean, shouldn't it be called Lithp?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday October 25, 2011 @09:38AM (#37831298)

    I finally decided to buy an iPad and Steve Jobs dies.
    I started a new project using C and Dennis Ritchie kicks the bucket.
    Then I started Stanford's AI Course and now John McCarthy is pining for the fjords.

    That's it. It's definitive. I'm a God of Death, so I shall use my recently discovered powers for the good of humanity. I'm going out to buy an Oracle DB and learn how to use it. See you on Larry Ellison's funeral next week.

    PS: Also, I suspect I'm the God of Rain too, since every time I wash my car it rains the next day.

Passwords are implemented as a result of insecurity.

Working...