Homage to John McCarthy, the Father of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Mention “Artificial Intelligence” (AI) and people might think you are talking about science fiction and shiny robots while in fact the science of AI has been around for decades and is all very real.

In fact, recent results from a large survey of machine learning researchers predict AI will outperform humans in many activities in the next ten years, such as translating languages (by 2024) all the way to working as a surgeon (by 2053). Researchers also believe there is a 50% chance of AI outperforming humans in all tasks in 45 years and of automating all human jobs in 120 years.

John McCarthy

When it comes to AI, it’s difficult to really know where we’re headed, but what we can take away from this research is how far we’ve come from thoughts about AI in science fiction.

The thing is, we don’t always realize when we’re in contact with Artificial Intelligence because we’re getting so used to technology doing new and amazing things every day that we don’t stop to think about the science behind the gadgets or programs that we use.

For example, without Artificial Intelligence, there would be no virtual assistants, either on the web or on your smartphone device (say bye-bye to Siri!!), and there would have been no Artificial Solutions either. We are therefore forever grateful to the people who were the inspiration behind this amazing technology and who have helped make computer science so much more human-like and capable.

Where did the term “Artificial Intelligence” come from?

One of the greatest innovators in the field was John McCarthy, widely recognized as the father of Artificial Intelligence due to his astounding contribution in the field of Computer Science and AI.

It was in the mid-1950s that McCarthy coined the term “Artificial Intelligence” which he would define as “the science and engineering of making intelligent machines”.

Who was John McCarthy?

Along with being considered the father of AI, John McCarthy was a prominent computer scientist and cognitive scientist.

McCarthy presented his definition of Artificial Intelligence at a conference on the campus of Dartmouth College in the summer of 1956 indicating the beginning of AI research, and the attendees, him included, became the leaders of AI research for many decades.

McCarthy also created Lisp, the standard programming language used in robotics and other scientific applications and in a multitude of Internet-based services, from credit-card fraud detection to airline scheduling.

At Stanford University, McCarthy founded an AI laboratory where he worked on early versions of a self-driving car. He produced papers on robot consciousness and free will and worked on ways of making programs understand or mimic human common-sense decision-making more effectively.

Another major McCarthy innovation was an early system of computer time-sharing or networking, which allowed many people to share data by linking to a central computer, and in 1960, when he opined that “computation may someday be organized as a public utility” the underlying concept of cloud computing was stated.

In 1966, the father of AI got the world’s attention when he hosted a series of four simultaneous computer chess matches carried out via telegraph against rivals in Russia. The matches lasted several months, and the result was that McCarthy lost two of the matches and drew two.

Other prominent leaders in Artificial Intelligence

John McCarthy belonged to a prestigious group of scientists who all in part were the fathers of artificial intelligence in one way or another. Most, but not all, of his peers also took part in the renowned Dartmouth Conference in 1956. We will look at some of the other key figures in AI.

Alan Turing

Prior to the Dartmouth Conference, Turing was an English mathematician, computer scientist, cryptanalyst, logician and theoretical biologist who was influential in the development of theoretical computer science.

His Turing machine provided the concepts of algorithm and computation that led to general-purpose computers. He is also considered a founder of AI, but his accomplishments were never fully recognized at the time due to the secrecy of his work under the Official Secrets Act and the prevalent homophobia at the time that eventually led to his prosecution and suicide in 1954.

TheTuring Award is the highest distinction in computer science and is named after him.

Marvin Minsky

A member of the Dartmouth ConferenceMinsky was a cognitive and computer scientist who collaborated with John McCarthy and co-founded the MIT’s AI laboratory in 1959.

He produced valuable research on artificial neural networks and artificial intelligence. He won the Turing Award in 1969.

Allen Newell

Also present at Dartmouth, Newell’s contributions to AI included the Information Processing Language in 1956, and two of the earliest AI programs, the Logic Theory Machine and the General Problem Solver with his colleague Herbert S. Simon. Both won the Turing Award in 1975.

Claude Shannon

The father of information theory helped organize the Dartmouth Conference. His paper “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” and subsequent research has been a fundamental contribution to natural language processing and computational linguistics.

Nathaniel Rochester

Renown for writing the first assembler that allowed programs to be written in short comments as opposed to numbers, and for designing IBM’s first commercial computer, the IBM 701, Rochester was also an organizer of the Dartmouth Conference and is renown for his study of pattern recognition and intelligent machines.

Geoffrey Hinton

Alongside Yoshua Bengio and Yann LeCun, Geoff Hinton is often to referred as one of the “Godfathers of AI”.

His contributions, however, have been far more recent than John McCarthy’s, but still significant, as his work on artificial neural networks has earned him and his peers the title of the fathers of Deep Learning.


This article is an updated and expanded version of the post “Homage to John McCarthy, the Father of Artificial Intelligence (AI)”, originally published on June 2, 2017.

Digital Transformation:
The Definitive Guide

This is the ultimate guide
to digital transformation.

Everything from what digital transformation is, business benefits, challenges and what to expect in the future.

Read the Guide