Brian Cantwell Smith

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Brian Cantwell Smith
Alma materMIT
Known forcomputational reflection
Scientific career
Fieldscognitive science, computer science, philosophy, information science
InstitutionsUniversity of Toronto, Duke University, Indiana University, Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, Stanford University
ThesisProcedural Reflection in Programming Languages (vol. 1) (1982)
Doctoral advisorPeter Szolovits

Brian Cantwell Smith is a philosopher and cognitive scientist working in the fields of cognitive science, computer science, information science, and philosophy, especially ontology.

His research has focused on the foundations and philosophy of computing, both in the practice and theory of computer science, and in the use of computational metaphors in other fields, such as philosophy, cognitive science, physics, and art. As of 2024, he is professor of information, computer science, and philosophy at University of Toronto.


Smith received his BS, MS and PhD degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Smith's 1982 doctoral dissertation [1][2] introduced the notion of computational reflection in programming languages, an area of active ongoing research in computer science. Past publications have addressed questions in computational reflection, meta-level architecture, programming languages, and knowledge representation. Over the last decade, his work has focused on fundamental issues in the foundations of epistemology, ontology, and metaphysics.

He was a founder of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University, and a founder and first president of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility. Smith served as principal scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, in the 1980s.

Smith is the author of more than 35 articles and three books.[citation needed] One of his books is called On the Origin of Objects, MIT Press, 1996. He had promised for several years that he is about to publish a seven-volume series entitled The Age of Significance: An Essay on the Origins of Computation and Intentionality but as of 2024, only a 43 page introduction has been released.

Smith was Dean of the University of Toronto Faculty of Information from 2003–2008.

Smith formerly held a Canada Research Chair in the Foundations of Information, and is cross-appointed as Professor in the departments of Philosophy and Computer Science and in the Program in Communication, Culture and Technology at University of Toronto at Mississauga.

Personal life[edit]

His father was the celebrated scholar of religion Wilfred Cantwell Smith.

External links[edit]


Academic offices
Preceded by
Lynne Howarth
Dean of University of Toronto Faculty of Information
Succeeded by
Jens-Erik Mai (acting)