Barry Smith (ontologist)

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Barry Smith
Barry Smith.jpg
Born (1952-06-04) 4 June 1952 (age 70)
Bury, England
CitizenshipUnited States
EducationUniversity of Oxford
University of Manchester (PhD, 1976)
Known forTruthmaker theory
European Society for Analytic Philosophy
OBO Foundry
Basic Formal Ontology
AwardsWolfgang Paul Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Manchester
University of Sheffield
International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein
University at Buffalo
ThesisThe Ontology of Reference: Studies in Logic and Phenomenology (1976)
Doctoral advisorWolfe Mays
Doctoral studentsBerit Brogaard
Other notable studentsDavid Koepsell
Amie Thomasson
Franz Brentano
Edmund Husserl
Adolf Reinach
Roman Ingarden
Michael Dummett

Barry Smith (born 4 June 1952) is an academic working in the fields of ontology and biomedical informatics. Smith is the author of more than 700 scientific publications, including 15 authored or edited books, and he is one of the most widely cited contemporary philosophers.[1]

Education and career[edit]

From 1970 to 1973 Smith studied Mathematics and Philosophy at the University of Oxford. He obtained his PhD from the University of Manchester in 1976 for a dissertation on ontology and reference in Husserl and Frege.[2] The dissertation was supervised by Wolfe Mays.

Among the cohort of graduate students supervised by Mays in Manchester were Kevin Mulligan (Geneva/Lugano), and Peter Simons (Trinity College, Dublin). Both shared with Smith an interest in analytic metaphysics and in the contributions of certain turn-of-the-century Continental philosophers and logicians to central issues of analytic philosophy.[3] In 1979 Mulligan, Simons and Smith together founded the Seminar for Austro-German Philosophy,[4] which organized workshops and conferences centered around the work of early Central European philosophers from Bolzano to Tarski and their impact on subsequent generations. A central role in this respect was played by Husserl's contributions to formal ontology.[5] One prominent supporter of these meetings was Roderick Chisholm, who in his Intellectual Autobiography published in 1997[6] describes the 'significant role' played by these meetings in contemporary philosophy.

From 1976 to 1994 Smith held appointments at the University of Sheffield (1976–1979), the University of Manchester (1979–1989) and the International Academy of Philosophy, Liechtenstein (1989–1994). In 1994 he moved to the University at Buffalo (New York, USA),[7] where he is currently Julian Park Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Affiliate Professor of Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science and Engineering, and Neurology. From 2002 to 2006 Smith served as founding Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science (IFOMIS), initially in Leipzig[8] and then, from 2004, in Saarbrücken.

In 2005 Smith founded the National Center for Ontological Research (NCOR), under the auspices of which he initiated in 2006 the Ontology for the Intelligence Community, subsequently STIDS,[9] conference series, and the International Conference on Biomedical Ontology (ICBO).[10][11]

From 1992 to 2016 Smith served as editor of The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry.

Since 2016 he has served as editor of international standard ISO/IEC 21838: Top Level Ontologies, Parts 1 and 2 of which were published by ISO in 2021. Part 1 [12] specifies the requirements for being a top-level (which means: domain-neutral) ontology. Part 2[13] is devoted to Basic Formal Ontology (BFO). The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, pointed to the fact that BFO is the first example of a piece of philosophy that has been elevated to the status of an industrial norm, describing this as a 'small sensation in the history of science'.[14]

Since 2019 Smith has served as Visiting Professor at the University of Italian Switzerland.[15]

Research activities[edit]

From the beginning of his career Smith has worked in the field of ontology, initially on the history of ontology as a sub-discipline of philosophy in the tradition of Brentano, Husserl, Ingarden and Reinach.[16] A special focus was on the theory of ontological dependence and part-whole relations proposed by Husserl,[17][18] a theory which was applied by Husserl's students for example to the understanding of the ontology of mental and linguistic acts.[19] In 1984 he published together with Mulligan and Simons the paper "Truth-Makers".[20] This paper helped to launch truthmaker theory,[21][22][23] a still active research program at the borderlines of logic, semantics and philosophical ontology, based on a new understanding of the correspondence theory of truth.

In the 1990s Smith worked closely with David Mark, one of the founders of geographic information science (GIS), on initiatives in the field of geospatial ontology. In this connection he introduced the idea of fiat objects[24] to describe (typically rectangular) geospatial entities, such as postal districts and real estate parcels, which are not separated from their surroundings by any physical discontinuity. This terminology has been generalized into other fields.[25][26]

Since 2000 much of Smith's research has been centered on the application of ontology in biomedical informatics, where he has worked on a variety of projects relating to biomedical terminologies and electronic health records.[27] He is a founding Coordinating Editor of the OBO Foundry[28] and has served as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Gene Ontology Consortium, and of the Ontology for Biomedical Investigations (OBI).[29] He contributes to the development of a number of biological and biomedical ontologies, including the Protein Ontology,[30] the Plant Ontology,[31] and others. Between 2005 and 2015 he was a co-PI of the NIH National Center for Biomedical Ontology,[32] where he was responsible especially for dissemination of ontology best practices and for providing training opportunities for biomedical ontologists.[33] Between 2013 and 2018 he served as ontology lead on the NIAID ImmPort project.[34][35]

Smith works also on the ontology of social reality, particularly in connection with the work of John Searle.[36] He serves as consultant to Hernando de Soto, Director of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Peru, on projects relating to the advancement of property and business rights among the poor in developing countries.

Since 2008 Smith has worked on ontology initiatives in the military and intelligence field. In 2008–2010 he served as technical lead on a project sponsored by the US Army Net-Centric Data Strategy Center of Excellence (ANCDS CoE) to create the Universal Core Semantic Layer (UCore-SL). Since 2010 he was worked on a series of initiatives sponsored by the US Army Intelligence and Information Warfare Directorate (I2WD) to create a framework for semantic enhancement of intelligence data in the Cloud. Since 2014 he is collaborator on initiatives of the US Air Force Research Laboratory on planning, mission assurance, and lifecycle management. In this connection he has worked on the creation of an ontology for joint military doctrine,[37] designed to support the use of information technology in joint operations by allowing computational access to the contents of Joint Doctrine publications.[38]

Since 2016 Smith has been centrally involved in the Industrial Ontologies Foundry (IOF) initiative,[39] which is creating a set of open ontologies to support the data needs of the manufacturing and engineering industries in a way that will advance data interoperability. Basic Formal Ontology, which serves as the top-level hub of the IOF, has been applied in the development of ontologies in many areas of engineering,[40] including maintenance,[41] supply chain,[42] product life cycle,[43] and additive manufacturing.[44]

In 2022 Smith published with the German scientist Jobst Landgrebe Why Machines Will Never Rule the World. Artificial Intelligence Without Fear.[45] The book defends the thesis that there are strict limits to what AI can achieve. For stochastic AI, the limits rest on the fact that, for a stochastic algorithm to work requires training data which are representative of the data in the target domain. Training data which satisfy this requirement can be achieved in relation to simple systems. Where complex systems[46] are involved, however, as is the case for all systems involving organisms, features of the target domain are always changing in unforeseeable ways, and each such change has the potential to deprive the training data of its representativeness. For deterministic AI, the problems are similar, because there the models require very strict regularities of a sort which we do not generally find in complex systems.


Leo Zaibert's The Theory and Practice of Ontology (2016)[50] and Gloria Zúñiga y Postigo and Gerald J. Erion's Barry Smith an sich (2017)[51] are Festschrifts dedicated to Smith containing studies of his work by colleagues and students.




  1. ^
  2. ^ Smith, Barry (1976). The Ontology of Reference: Studies in Logic and Phenomenology (PhD thesis). University of Manchester.
  3. ^ Mark Textor (ed.), The Austrian Contribution to Analytic Philosophy, Routledge, 2006. ISBN 9780415404051.
  4. ^ Axel Bühler, "Drei Briten in Kakanien", Information Philosophie, 3 (1987), 22–33.
  5. ^ Sébastien Richard, "Object and Something in General in Contemporary Formal Ontology", in Fosca Mariani Zini (ed.), The Meaning of Something, Springer, 2022. 133-149. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-031-09610-5_6
  6. ^ Roderick M. Chisholm, "My philosophical development", in L. E. Hahn (ed.), The Philosophy of Roderick Chisholm (Library of Living Philosophers), Chicago and La Salle, IL, 1997, p. 17.
  7. ^ Barry Smith – CV
  8. ^ History of IFOMIS
  9. ^ STIDS
  10. ^ International Conference on Biomedical Ontology
  11. ^ Barry Smith, ed., Proceedings of the First International Conference on Biomedical Ontology, Buffalo, New York, July 24–26, 2009. [1], last accessed August 25, 2017.
  12. ^ ISO/IEC 21838: Top Level Ontologies, Part 1
  13. ^ ISO/IEC 21838: Top Level Ontologies, Part 2
  14. ^ "Begriffe in Schichten: Die 'Basic Formal Ontology' erbringt Dienstleistungen für die Medizin. Das wurde jetzt mit der Anerkennung als Industriestandard gewürdigt", Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 28 September 2022.
  15. ^ "Professors". - Master in Philosophy. 2020. Archived from the original on 1 October 2020. Retrieved 11 November 2020.
  16. ^ Marco Tedeschini, From Phenomenology to Formal Ontology: How Barry Smith and Kevin Mulligan Made Husserl’s Descriptive Psychology into a Form of Realism, Archivio di filosofia, 83 (3), 2015, 177-188.
  17. ^ Fabrice Correia, "Ontological Dependence", Philosophy Compass 3/5 (2008): 1013–1032, 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2008.00170.x
  18. ^ Kit Fine, "Part-Whole", Cambridge Companion to Husserl, Cambridge University Press, 1995.
  19. ^ Kevin Mulligan, ed., Speech Act and Sachverhalt: Reinach and the Foundations of Realist Phenomenology, Reidel, 1987.
  20. ^ Kevin Mulligan, Peter Simons and Barry Smith, Truth-Makers, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 44 (1984), 287-321.
  21. ^ D. M. Armstrong, Truth and Truthmakers, Cambridge University Press, 2004.
  22. ^ Fraser MacBride, "Truthmakers", Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (2013).
  23. ^ Philip Larrey, From Searle’s Speech Acts to Smith’s Truth-Makers, Raffaela Giovagnoli and Robert Lowe (eds.), The Logic of Social Practices, New York: Springer, 2020, 37-48.
  24. ^ Barry Smith, "Fiat Objects", Topoi, 20: 131–148, 2001.
  25. ^ Richard Davies (ed.), Natural and Artifactual Objects in Contemporary Metaphysics. Exercises in Analytic Ontology, London: Bloomsbury, 2019.
  26. ^ L. Vogt, P. Grobe, B. Quast, T. Bartolomaeus, "Fiat or Bona Fide Boundary — A Matter of Granular Perspective", PLoS ONE, 7(12): e48603.
  27. ^ Martin Berzell, Electronic Healthcare Ontologies: Philosophy, the Real World and IT Structures, Linköping Studies in Arts and Science, 2010, No. 517. [2]
  28. ^ Barry Smith, et al., "The OBO Foundry: coordinated evolution of ontologies to support biomedical data integration", Nature Biotechnology 25, 1251-1255 (2007). doi:10.1038/nbt1346
  29. ^ Anita Bandrowski, et al., The Ontology for Biomedical Investigations, PLOS One, April 29, 2016.
  30. ^ Protein Ontology
  31. ^ Ramona Lynn Walls, Laurel Cooper, Justin Lee Elser, Maria Alejandra Gandolfo, Christopher J Mungall, Barry Smith, Dennis William Stevenson, Pankaj Jaiswal, "The Plant Ontology facilitates comparisons of plant development stages across species", Frontiers in Plant Science, June 4, 2019, 10, 631. [3]
  32. ^ "UB part of new NIH center: Focus of work is biomedical ontology".
  33. ^ Chelsea Wald, “More Than Words”, ‘’Science’’, 2011/02, doi:10.1126/science.caredit.a1100012
  34. ^ NIAID ImmPort project
  35. ^ "UB ontologists named to major NIH immunology research team".
  36. ^ Bauwens M. Institutions as dispositions: Searle, Smith and the metaphysics of blind chess. J Theory of Social Behavior 2018;1–19.
  37. ^ Peter Morosoff, Ron Rudnicki, Jason Bryant, Robert Farrell & Barry Smith, "Joint Doctrine Ontology: A Benchmark for Military Information Systems Interoperability", Semantic Technology for Intelligence, Defense and Security (STIDS), CEUR vol. 1325, 2015, pp. 2-9.
  38. ^ Joint Doctrine Hierarchy
  39. ^ Industrial Ontologies Foundry
  40. ^ "BFO-Based Engineering Ontologies - NCOR Wiki".
  41. ^ Hedi Karray, Farhad Ameri, Melinda Hodkiewicz, Thierry Louge, ROMAIN: Towards a BFO compliant reference ontology for industrial maintenance, Applied ontology, vol. 14, no. 2, 179-197.
  42. ^ Ana Correia, Dragan Stokic, Rebecca Siafaka, Sebastian Scholze, Ontology for Collaborative Development of Product Service Systems based on Basic Formal Ontology, 2017 International Conference on Engineering, Technology and Innovation (ICE/ITMC).
  43. ^ J. Neil Otte, Dimitris Kiritsis, Munira Binti Mohd Ali, Ruoyu Yang, Binbin Zhang, Ron Rudnicki, Rahul Rai, Barry Smith, An Ontological Approach to Representing the Product Life Cycle, Applied Ontology, vol. 14, no. 2, 155-177.
  44. ^ Thomas J. Hagedorn, Sundar Krishnamurty & Ian R. Grosse, A Knowledge-Based Method for Innovative Design for Additive Manufacturing Supported by Modular Ontologies, Journal of Computing and Information Science in Engineering, 18(2), 021009 (Mar 19, 2018).
  45. ^ Jobst Landgrebe and Barry Smith, Why Humans Will Never Rule the World. Artificial Intelligence Without Fear, Abingdon, UK: Routledge, 2022, ISBN 978-1-00-331010-5.
  46. ^ Stefan Thurner, Rudolf Hanel, & Peter Klimek, Introduction to the Theory of Complex Systems, Oxford University Press, 2018.
  47. ^ "The Wolfgang Paul Award". Archived from the original on 22 April 2016.
  48. ^ "The Paolo Bozzi Prize for Ontology".
  49. ^ "Barry Smith named Fellow of American College of Medical Informatics".
  50. ^ Leo Zaibert, ed. (2016). The Theory and Practice of Ontology. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 1. ISBN 9781137552778.
  51. ^ Cosmos + Taxis. Studies in Emergent Order and Organization, 4 (4), June 2017. [4]

External links[edit]