John McCarthy — Father of AI and Lisp — Dies at 84

Cade Metz in Wired:

ScreenHunter_14 Oct. 25 17.11When IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer won its famous chess rematch with then world champion Garry Kasparov in May 1997, the victory was hailed far and wide as a triumph of artificial intelligence. But John McCarthy — the man who coined the term and pioneered the field of AI research — didn’t see it that way.

As far back as the mid-60s, chess was called the “Drosophila of artificial intelligence” — a reference to the fruit flies biologists used to uncover the secrets of genetics — and McCarthy believed his successors in AI research had taken the analogy too far.

“Computer chess has developed much as genetics might have if the geneticists had concentrated their efforts starting in 1910 on breeding racing Drosophila,” McCarthy wrote following Deep Blue’s win. “We would have some science, but mainly we would have very fast fruit flies.”

According Daphne Koller — a professor in the Stanford AI Lab who still carries the torch for McCarthy’s orthodox vision of artificial intelligence — it’s a quote that sums up both McCarthy and his work. “The word that bests describes him is ‘uncompromising’,” she tells Wired. “He believed in artificial intelligence in terms of building an artifact that could actually replicate human level intelligence, and because of this, we was very unhappy with a lot AI today, which provides some very useful applications but focuses on machine learning.

More here.