BFO and CCO adopted as 'baseline standards' by federal agencies

Global view.

Under the leadership of Barry Smith, on-going research by UB ontologists has resulted in the development of Basic Formal Ontology (BFO), an international standard top-level ontology that provides the common starting point for 100s of ontology initiatives throughout the world. Here in Buffalo, BFO has been extended to form the Common Core Ontologies (CCO), which is a family of mid-level ontologies used especially in military and security domains. BFO and CCO allow information to be effectively combined, retrieved and analyzed. In January of this year, the Chief Data Officers in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the DOD, and, the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office defined BFO and CCO as the baseline standards for ontology work in the Department of Defense and Intelligence Community.

Related news: U.S. Defense and Intelligence to Adopt BFO and CCO Standards for Enhanced Data Management

research news

Federal agencies adopt resource developed by UB ontologists


Published March 4, 2024

Barry Smith.
“Ontology creates data descriptions that everyone can use. ”
Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor, Department of Philosophy, and co-director
National Center for Ontological Research

Engineering projects for all agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and intelligence community (IC) will rely on a critical resource created and maintained under the leadership of Barry Smith, SUNY Distinguished Professor in the Department of Philosophy.

The chief data officers in the DOD, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Chief Digital and Artificial Intelligence Office agreed last month to use the Basic Formal Ontology (BFO) and one of its widely used extensions, the Common Core Ontology (CCO), as the “baseline standards for formal DOD and IC ontology.”

BFO, recognized in 2022 as an international (ISO/IEC) standard, is a “top-level” ontology that supports the interchange of information from one domain to another. It provides controlled vocabularies whose common use by database and information systems allows information to be effectively combined, retrieved and analyzed.

CCO, created in 2010 by CUBRC with funding from the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA), is a “mid-level” ontology ecosystem that can be used to create mission-specific ontologies that demand wide integration and interoperability. Leveraging BFO and CCO, CUBRC has become a leading developer of ontologies used across defense, intelligence, law enforcement and commercial applications.

“Ontology creates data descriptions that everyone can use,” says Smith, one of the top 10 most widely cited living philosophers, according to Google Scholar. “It’s nearly impossible to join data derived from multiple sources without an ontology.”

Smith says engineers working on separate pieces of the fuselage for the Airbus 380 in 2006 had conflicting ways of representing holes in their respective computer-aided design packages. The discrepancy meant that hundreds of miles of wires that had to be threaded through the plane’s airframe couldn’t reach the necessary connection points. Being just a few millimeters short of the mark required $6 billion to correct.

That’s the kind of mistake BFO and CCO can help to prevent, and adopting them as standards means not only more effective spending, but also better use of data related to national security, according to John Beverley, assistant professor of philosophy at UB and, alongside Smith, co-director of the National Center for Ontological Research.

“Government agencies have struggled for decades to integrate and extract useful information from massive amounts of stored data. Different contractors and companies have addressed these challenges. But they provided non-scalable solutions – what worked for one vendor did not necessarily translate to another,” says Beverley. “This agreement directs agencies to use open-source standards that are designed for integrating and extracting information from otherwise disconnected databases.

“These standards and their extensions are under active development, and they form the backbone of ontology training at UB,” Beverley adds.

Leveraging this work promotes collaboration and data sharing across the DOD and IC, while advancing best practices and standards across all agencies, according to Smith and Beverley.