McCarthy was inspired by John von Neumann in a lecture at Caltech which inspired his later work. During a public speech in 1961 at MIT he was the first to suggest that computer time-sharing might result in a future in which computing power and even specific applications could be sold as a utility.
- original LISP paper from 1959
- McCarthy invented Lisp to be a purely theoretical language, something akin to lambda calculus. When his graduate student Steve Russell spoke of implementing Lisp, McCarthy objected that he didn’t intend Lisp to actually run on a physical computer. Russell then implemented a Lisp interpreter and showed it to McCarthy. Steve Russell is an unsung hero who deserves some of the credit for Lisp being an actual programming language and not merely a theoretical construct. This does not diminish McCarthy’s achievement, but it does mean that someone else also deserves recognition.