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Lisp was invented by John McCarthy in 1958 while he was at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). McCarthy published its design in a paper in Communications of the ACM in 1960, entitled "Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I"[1] ("Part II" was never published). He showed that with a few simple operators and a notation for functions, one can build a Turing-complete language for algorithms.

Information Processing Language was the first AI language, from 1955 or 1956, and already included many of the concepts, such as list-processing and recursion, which came to be used in Lisp.

McCarthy's original notation used bracketed "M-expressions" that would be translated into S-expressions. As an example, the M-expression car[cons[A,B]] is equivalent to the S-expression (car (cons A B)). Once Lisp was implemented, programmers rapidly chose to use S-expressions, and M-expressions were abandoned. M-expressions surfaced again with short-lived attempts of MLISP[2] by Horace Enea and CGOL by Vaughan Pratt.

Lisp was first implemented by Steve Russell on an IBM 704 computer. Russell had read McCarthy's paper, and realized (to McCarthy's surprise) that the Lisp eval function could be implemented in machine code.[3] The result was a working Lisp interpreter which could be used to run Lisp programs, or more properly, 'evaluate Lisp expressions.'

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  1. Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I | John McCarthy |
  2. MLISP Users Manual | David Canfield Smith | |
  3. According to what reported by Paul Graham in Hackers & Painters, p. 185, McCarthy said: "Steve Russell said, look, why don't I program this eval..., and I said to him, ho, ho, you're confusing theory with practice, this eval is intended for reading, not for computing. But he went ahead and did it. That is, he compiled the eval in my paper into IBM 704 machine code, fixing bug , and then advertised this as a Lisp interpreter, which it certainly was. So at that point Lisp had essentially the form that it has today..."
ANSI Common Lisp Branch
Preceded by
LISP Followed by
LISP 1.5

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