An Appreciation of Pure LISP

John McCarthy's 1960 paper, “Recursive Functions of Symbolic Expressions and Their Computation by Machine, Part I” [PDF, reproduction of original], which introduced the LISP programming system, was a stunning achievement in the history of computing. McCarthy proved that with only a minimal set of functions and linked lists, it was not only possible to evaluate any computable function (Turing completeness), but that there was no distinction between programs and data—programs could manipulate themselves as easily as they could items of data. In a sense,a large part of the history of programming languages in the six decades that followed was re-inventing concepts inherent in Lisp from its origin.

In this talk from 2019 Linux conference, Kristoffer Gronlund describes LISP, demonstrates how so few primitives can have such power, and describes how it has influenced programming languages and how we think about computing over the years.

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