The LISP 2 Project

The LISP 2 Project” appears in the October-December 2017 issue of IEEE Annals of the History of Computing (open access).

I first heard about LISP 2 around 1971, from a 1966 conference paper included in the reading for a U.C. Berkeley seminar on advanced programming languages. The goal of LISP 2 was to combine the strengths of numerically-oriented languages such as ALGOL and FORTRAN with the symbolic capabilities of LISP. The paper described the language and its implementation at some length, but by 1971 it was pretty clear that LISP 2 had not caught on; instead, the original LISP 1.5 had spawned a variety of dialects such as BBN-LISPMACLISP, and Stanford LISP 1.6.

In 2005 I began a project to archive LISP history  and kept encountering people who’d been involved with LISP 2, including Paul Abrahams, Jeff Barnett, Lowell Hawkinson, Michael Levin, Clark Weissman, Fred Blair, Warren Teitelman, and Danny Bobrow. By 2010 I had been able to scan LISP 2 documents and source code belonging to BarnettHerbert Stoyan, and Clark Weissman. In 2012, after writing about Hawkinson and others in an extended blog post “Harold V. McIntosh and his students: Lisp escapes MIT,” I decided to try to tell the story of the LISP 2 project, where so many interesting people’s paths had crossed. My sources included original project documents as well as telephone and email interviews with participants, and several participants were kind enough to provide feedback on multiple drafts. I let the article sit in limbo for five years, but last year after I published another anecdote in the Annals, editor Dave Walden encouraged me to submit this one.

On December 28, 2017, as the article was about to go to press, Lowell Hawkinson died suddenly from an accident.

Lowell Hawkinson, 1943 – 2018

Lowell Hawkinson passed away at the age of 74 on December 28, 2017 as a result of an accident. Lowell was a pioneer in LISP implementation and artificial intelligence. He co-founded Gensym Corporation in 1986 and served as its CEO through 2006. This obituary gives more details of his life and accomplishments.

I first got in touch with Lowell in 2010 because of my interest in archiving LISP history. We exchanged emails (and one phone conversation), and over the years I wrote several blog posts and a journal article about work involving him:

Although my interactions with Lowell were brief, his kindness and modesty were manifest. He will be deeply missed by his family and friends.