John McCarthy, Man behind Garbage Collection


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://iq.opengenus.org/john-mccarthy/
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The story about Garbage Collection is roughly this: they were developing a stack-oriented machine. Until a (presumably graduate) student ran into a very troublesome bug, later to be called a funarg problem. He thought it could be something important, even a fundamental flaw in the whole concept of a stack machine, i.e., when the function returned, there would be nothing further to remember. Professor McCarthy studied the problem. The student was right. Ultimately, they realized that there was some information that simply had to be remembered until it absolutely had no further use. At that point, it was “garbage” and could be “collected.” I think I heard the story in an Algol class.

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