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Quotes of the day: John McCarthy

Published Thursday, September 03, 2015 @ 8:09 PM EDT
Sep 03 2015

John McCarthy (September 4, 1927 – October 24, 2011) was an American computer scientist and cognitive scientist. McCarthy was one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence. He coined the term "artificial intelligence" (AI), developed the Lisp programming language family, significantly influenced the design of the ALGOL programming language, popularized timesharing, and was very influential in the early development of AI. McCarthy received many accolades and honors, such as the Turing Award for his contributions to the topic of AI, the United States National Medal of Science, and the Kyoto Prize. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


A declining institution often experiences survival of the unfittest.

Amateur bureaucrats are often even worse than professional bureaucrats.

An atheist doesn't have to be someone who thinks he has a proof that there can't be a god. He only has to be someone who believes that the evidence on the God question is at a similar level to the evidence on the werewolf question.

An extreme optimist is a man who believes that humanity will probably survive even if it doesn't take his advice.

Asking a critic to name his favorite book is like asking a butcher to name his favorite pig.

Compassion is contempt with a human face.

Cynicism is a cheap substitute for sophistication. You don't actually have to learn anything.

Don't try to talk anyone out of concentrating his hatred on Ayn Rand or any other dead person. It can't harm the dead. Diverted to a living person, it might actually do harm.

During the second millenium, the Earthmen complained a lot.

Equality of the sexes is more important than equality of the genders.

Foolishness is rarely a matter of lack of intelligence or even lack of information.

God did not design human beings in accordance with Christian principles, fascist principles, feminist principles, socialist principles, romantic principles, secular humanist principles, vegetarian principles, deep environmentalist principles, biocentric principles, or libertarian principles. Any of these groups could have told God a thing or two.

Hard distinctions make bad philosophy.

He who refuses to do arithmetic is doomed to talk nonsense.

He who says he will die for a cause will probably lie for it and may kill for it.

Honor among thieves is the ancestor of all honor.

If a person can be said to have the wrong attitude, there is no need to pay attention to his arguments.

If you want to do good, work on the technology, not on getting power.

In human history, the desire for revenge and the desire for loot have often been closely associated.

It is deplorable that many people think that the best way to improve the world is to forbid something. However, they're morally more advanced than the people who think the best way to improve the world is to kill somebody.

It's possible to program a computer in English. It's also possible to make an airplane controlled by reins and spurs.

Language is froth on the surface of thought.

My hobby of not attending meetings about recycling saves more energy than your hobby of recycling.

Never abandon a theory that explains something until you have a theory that explains more.

Once a person has killed other people on behalf of an ideology, he becomes rather devoted to it.

Personal dishonesty is not needed to produce a dishonest business plan or research proposal. Wishful thinking suffices.

Self-righteousness has killed more people than smoking.

Slogans rarely convince the unconvinced. However, they do rally the troops already on your side.

The slogan was 'Don't trust anyone over thirty'. Sixty years later the slogan became, 'Don't trust anyone over ninety'.

There is nothing so powerful as an idea whose time has come. Yes, even if it's a bad idea.

There is only one thing more harmful to society than an elected official forgetting the promises he made in order to get elected; that's when he doesn't forget them.

When architects get prizes, the people suffer.

When there's a will to fail, obstacles can be found.

With no more than six levels of misquotation, any statement can be made to say whatever you wish.


(September 4 is also the birthday of Richard Wright, Henry Ford, Ivan Illich, and Paul Harvey.)

Categories: John McCarthy, Quotes of the day


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