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The beginning of the artificial intelligence community


The beauty of the Lisp language
Marvin Minsky Scientist
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John McCarthy was a good programmer; I was a… not very good programmer and he had invented this wonderful language called Lisp, which was based on the nice language that Newell and Simon had invented called… no, it’s called IPL, Information Processing Language. IPL is made of little atoms and it’s very tedious, and McCarthy’s invention was… it was more like FORTRAN, which was… which is a language… IPL just had little instructions, FORTRAN has statements, make this true, and Lisp had statements with a very clean syntax. It only had… it basically has five basic verbs, whereas FORTRAN has a big mass of arbitrary… has a big library, and so McCarthy’s was a very elegant cleaning up of… of computer science. And thereafter, there were two kinds of languages, the algebraic language FORTRAN, and this recursive language call… based on Lisp, which… they’re now dying out because of… in a Lisp program, you can write a program that writes Lisp programs so it has a kind of open future; now, no… no-one actually does that yet, but it’s still possible.  In the other languages, it's almost… you can’t write a C program that will write a C program, it’s just… there aren’t any verbs of the right kind, so to me programming hasn’t changed much in 50 years because they got locked into this… strange set of limitations.

Marvin Minsky (1927-2016) was one of the pioneers of the field of Artificial Intelligence, founding the MIT AI lab in 1970. He also made many contributions to the fields of mathematics, cognitive psychology, robotics, optics and computational linguistics. Since the 1950s, he had been attempting to define and explain human cognition, the ideas of which can be found in his two books, The Emotion Machine and The Society of Mind. His many inventions include the first confocal scanning microscope, the first neural network simulator (SNARC) and the first LOGO 'turtle'.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is a London-based television producer and director who has made a number of documentary films for BBC TV, Channel 4 and PBS.

Tags: IPL, FORTRAN, John McCarthy, Allen Newell, Herbert Simon

Duration: 2 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: 29-31 Jan 2011

Date story went live: 09 May 2011