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Center for Education and Research in Information Assurance and Security

The Ontology of Documents and the Technology of Identification

Barry Smith - SUNY Buffalo

Nov 02, 2005


Attempts to develop ontologies of documents have been largely confined thus far either to e-documents (for example in the XML context) or to printed documents such as newspapers or works of literature (in the context of library informatics). In this talk I shall focus on the vast family of what we might call time-sensitive documents, and primarily on those made of paper, including: o identity documents (a passport with exit and entry stamps) o clinical documents (an endocrinology progress note) o business documents (a bill of shipment with signatures of sender, shipper, and recipient) We can think of the ontology of paper documents of these and related sorts as a generalization of the ontology of speech acts (statements, requests, orders, questions ...). The advantages of paper over speech include: 1. paper can survive over time, which means that paper documents can acquire new properties (they can be filled in, approved, copied, stamped, signed, counter-signed, revised, annulled, entered in a registry, archived); 2. paper documents thereby create traceable liability, and thus accountability (they leave an audit trial); 3. paper documents can be attached together, creating new document-complexes whose internal structure mirrors underlying relations (for example of debtor to creditor) among the human beings represented by and involved in creating them. I shall sketch an ontology of time-sensitive documents, focusing especially on the ways in which paper documents are used for purposes of identification in commercial and security domains, and concluding with a consideration of the feature of redundancy in documentation, a feature which proves to be indispensable when documents are used in establishing and verifying identity.

About the Speaker

Barry Smith is SUNY Distinguished Julian Park Professor of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo (New York, USA), Director of the newly founded National Center for Ontological Research, and Director of the Institute for Formal Ontology and Medical Information Science in Saarbrücken, Germany. He studied at Oxford and Manchester, and has held faculty positions in Sheffield, Manchester, Liechtenstein and Leipzig, as well as visiting positions in Erlangen, Graz, Paris, Turku, Innsbruck, Padua, Hamburg, Konstanz, Malta, Leiden, Vienna and Koblenz. He is the author of some 400 scientific publications, including 15 authored or edited books, and editor of The Monist: An International Quarterly Journal of General Philosophical Inquiry. His research has been funded by the US, Swiss and Austrian National Science Foundations, the Volkswagen Foundation, and the European Union. In 2002 he received in recognition of his scientific achievements the 2.2 Million Euro Wolfgang Paul Award of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Smith’s current research focus is ontology and its applications in biomedicine and biomedical informatics, where he is working on a variety of projects relating to biomedical terminologies and electronic health records. He is also collaborating with Hernando de Soto, Director of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima, Peru, on the ontology of property rights and social development.

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