ISO/IEC recognizes Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) as a top level ontology for supporting global information technology – Department of Philosophy

Investigation News

 graphic illustrating ontology.


Barry Smith; SUNY Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and Julian Park Chair; Ph.D.; Manchester; Director; National Center for Ontological Research; Affiliate Professor of Biomedical Informatics; Computer Science; and Neurology; Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences; University at Buffalo 2016.

UB is a foremost heart in the discipline of used ontology, which develops the signifies essential to create logically coherent facts classification systems. A person important useful resource for this function has now been regarded as an global regular by the Worldwide Business for Standardization (ISO) and Global Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) as conformant to the joint ISO/IEC Major-Amount Ontology conventional.

That source is the Simple Official Ontology (BFO), which is made use of in initiatives ranging from genomics study, to digital production, to the U.S. Office of Protection.

BFO is the first piece of philosophy ever to receive such recognition.

BFO was developed and is managed by a staff led by Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Section of Philosophy, Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and director of UB’s National Centre for Ontological Exploration (NCOR). Smith led the UB group at the rear of the energy, which involved Werner Ceusters, division main, Biomedical Ontology, Jacobs College of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Alan H. Ruttenberg, former director of scientific and translational knowledge exchange, UB Faculty of Dental Medicine.

The term “ontology” initially referred to a branch of metaphysics. In the existing context, an “ontology” is a computational inventory of types of objects, processes and the associations concerning them. Ontologies provide managed vocabularies whose popular use by database and information and facts programs developers makes it possible for their data to be much more efficiently merged, retrieved and analyzed.

Hundreds of ontologies have been designed in a lot of unique domains, but BFO is a “top-level” ontology that is relevant to any area whatsoever. It delivers a common architecture for use in supporting any official vocabulary.

“The publication of the new ISO/IEC standard has much-achieving implications that will motivate new amounts of innovation and collaboration not formerly feasible,” Smith points out. “In a variety of disciplines for the last 20 several years or so, men and women have engaged in attempts to standardize categories in various places. All those standardized sets are ontologies. Progressively, BFO gives the architecture employed to do that get the job done.”

The heritage of ontology

The results of the Human Genome Undertaking gave rise pretty promptly to immense portions of new varieties of data — facts about genes, proteins and other molecular sequences. Biologists and health-related researchers had to find some way to connect these new details to the do the job they had been accomplishing on biological processes in human beings and other organisms, including processes primary to sickness. The Gene Ontology (GO), designed in 1998, presented a consensus vocabulary that could be employed to tag sequences uncovered in all sorts of experiments involving organic phenomena.

In 2004, the GO leadership invited Smith to aid address the logical complications that arose when the GO by itself wanted to be joined to other ontologies covering domains these kinds of as chemistry or anatomy. The preliminary edition of BFO, which presented a area-neutral beginning position for ontology building, was the outcome of this operate.

Its successes in biology led the U.S. Army to take into account BFO for some of its intelligence requirements in 2010. Considering that then, multiple businesses in the U.S. Office of Defense and the U.S. intelligence local community have adopted accommodate. Today, there are approximately 500 establishments and teams that have ontology initiatives using BFO.

When Smith started out working with the U.S. Army, he also grew to become concerned with CUBRC, a Buffalo-based mostly scientific investigate, improvement, tests and systems integration organization that arose via a strategic romantic relationship in between UB and a regional know-how corporation in 1983 as a bridge among academia and sector. Now, CUBRC employs more than 170 engineers and scientists who execute state-of-the-art investigate, improvement, engineering and testing products and services in the places of aeroscience chemical, biological and clinical sciences and information and facts sciences.

“CUBRC’s key customers arrive from all components of the U.S. Department of Protection,” suggests Smith. “Based on the at any time-expanding have to have to align and semantically enrich pretty large and various info to guidance a vast assortment of protection and intelligence applications, CUBRC commenced a compact ontology staff comprised of former UB students and associates, which developed what arrived to be the Popular Main Ontologies (CCO), a pretty large-ranging suite of open source ontologies primarily based on BFO that is now applied in significant initiatives relating to protection and intelligence.”

Early on, CUBRC identified the possible influence across a large range of apps of subjecting BFO to the ISO process.

“As a result, CUBRC delivered both complex and economic assistance to Dr. Smith as he navigated the very long and intricate procedure that resulted in the publication of the new worldwide standard,” states Michael Moskal, CUBRC CIO and senior vice-president.

How it will work

BFO is rather compact but universal in the feeling that, in accordance to Smith, its groups can be made use of by a lot more or much less everybody with details. Everybody requires time and place objects and procedures features and destinations. These are just the types of normal conditions described computationally by BFO.

“Let’s say you have a man or woman, or a tank, or a molecule. In every circumstance, you have an item. Item is a standard class, while tank is reduced down the scale,” suggests Smith. “Similarly, if you have a clot forming or a bullet firing, then you have a procedure, which is one more top-degree classification. BFO supplies a usually means for area ontologists to construct groups at lessen amounts in a reliable way. That regularity is sizeable since of the ever-recurring want to pool resources, as with interagency collaborations, or corporate mergers, or scientific collaborations. When databases are constructed in isolation, it becomes quite high-priced when they will need to be combined.”

To see the types of troubles that occur, look at the word “post,” which has a number of definitions and shades of indicating. Speakers of American English may consider of a wood item when they listen to “post,” but speakers of British English could possibly be referring to the course of action of delivering mail. Human beings are capable to operate out the nuances separating a piece of timber from the postal provider, but desktops need to plow forward with just the information that has been coded. Common use of BFO can at the very least ease some of the troubles that then crop up.

As an additional example, acquire the time period “hole.” German and French engineers doing work in 2006 on independent items of the fuselage for the Airbus 380 had conflicting techniques of representing holes in their respective personal computer-aided design deals. But their databases plowed forward with their structure recommendations. The discrepancy involving the two definitions was not understood right up until the two pieces getting designed separately in Hamburg and Toulouse ended up introduced jointly. It was only then that crews threading the hundreds of miles of wiring as a result of the plane’s airframe announced that they ran out of slack prior to achieving the vital link points.

Price tag tag to resolve a few millimeters of mismeasurement? About $6 billion.

BFO development of philosophers

A philosophical qualifications is ideally suited for generating a little something like BFO, notes Smith, due to the fact of the discipline’s wide nature.

Professionals establish their awareness within just a certain specialty or area.

“Engineers know a large amount about engineering, and pc experts know a lot about laptop science, but philosophers know a minor little bit — specifically the very standard little bit — about all the things, and which is what is needed to build a best-stage architecture that absolutely everyone can share, no matter if you’re conversing about gene sequencing or army mission arranging,” suggests Smith.

Significant facts storage and integration calls for are contemporary realities of all scientific undertakings.

“The ISO/IEC regular establishes BFO as the initial Major Amount Ontology for describing advanced procedures, objects and functions in methods that will make it possible for experts to proceed with better self esteem that their info will be reusable by some others,” says Smith.