[Image of Norman]

Norman Foo

Norman Foo
School of Computer Science and Engineering
University of New South Wales
Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia

Telephone: +61 2 8306 0451
Facsimile: +61 2 8306 0405
Official Email:
Private Email:

My current affiliations are:

Emeritus Professor, Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, School of Computer Science and Engineering, the University of New South Wales (UNSW). My old office was located in the CSE Building (K17) near the middle of the Kensington campus of the University of New South Wales. This university is at the southern end of our fair city of Sydney, a URL courtesy of my colleague Prof Michael Maher.

Honorary Scientist in the research institute National Information and Communication Technologies Australia (NICTA) in its Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Program, and my office is in NICTA, located in a UNSW buiding (L5) at 223 Anzac Parade, across that street from the University Mall.

Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science, University of Bath, U.K. on account of my collaboration with their research team in logic programming models of agents.

Adjunct Professor in the School of Computing and Mathematics, University of Western Sydney, Penrith Campus on account of my collaboration with their research team in logic programming and logics of negotiation.

Research Interests

My interests are in logic and model theory applied to areas in descending order of priority - artificial intelligence, social agents, and mathematical systems theory.

In the first area I have been working with colleagues and students in belief revision (BR), especially in abductive and coherent modes using the AGM paradigm as the main vehicle. Belief merging (BM) is the more general case in which two or more theories are mutually revised. Of late I have been examining extended logic programs as a basis for modelling evolutionary and negotiation games. These can be usefully regarded as operational frameworks for BM. An application of this paradigm that I hope to explore in the next few years is social dynamics of very large numbers of resource-bounded agents that is part of my third area (see below).

The connection of the first with the third area is the application of BR to reasoning about action as exemplified by the KM postulates and other non-monotonic frameworks. Another connection is the generalization of BR to account for ontology revision (OR), which is about theory change under linguistic expansion. Theoretical terms as understood in the philosophy of science is part of OR, and so is the justifying status of experiments. I am also interested in enhancing the power of such logics by incorporating practical structures like object-orientation, and to explore the connections between these logics and simulation formalisms like DEVS that have an algebraic flavor. An enduring puzzle that Hume first raised is that of causality. I am often consumed by its ramifications :-) and it is in the interface between the logic of actions and mathematical systems theory that I hope to understand it. I also have a side interest in visual and diagrammatic reasoning and am trying to work out logical foundations that account for successes and failures in such reasoning. (An animation of a classic proof of the theorem of Pythagoras is perhaps the most vivid of such reasoning.)

The second area combines my interests in political economy, game theory, social choice and multi-agency. The idea here is to investigate how communities of epsitemic agents can account for emergent social phenomena such as behavioral norms, trust and reputation. One representational framework is a variety of logic programs called answer set programs, which my colleagues and I will enhance with doxastic predicates to enable agents to reason about beliefs and other social proclivities. Interestingly enough, classical function theory is useful here.

Some of my recent publications in these areas can be downloaded. A complete historical list is in my curriculum vitae. I can be quite indolent about fixing up my publication list or CV until circumstances periodically force it, so my apologies in advance if the links to them are obsolete or under repair.


Courses that I used to teach or co-teach were First Order Logic and Introduction to Modal Logic. I was the main instructor for Higher Data Organization and I have co-taught Logic and Logic Programming, Algorithms and Foundations of Computer Science. In the past I have taught courses in modelling and simulation, recursion theory, computer networks, programming (Haskell, Java and Prolog), data structures, and non-monotonic reasoning. These days I guest-lecture in senior/graduate courses at the invitation of my CSE/NICTA colleagues, and also in universities abroad.

Brief Biography

Although I am now an Australian national, I was born in Ipoh, Malaysia and completed high school in Kuala Lumpur. My first two degrees, BE and ME in electrical engineering, were from the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, New Zealand in 1965 and 1966. I worked for Telecom Malaysia for four years as a communications engineer before resuming graduate study at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, U.S.A., from which I obtained a PhD in Computer and Communication Sciences in 1974. I then taught at SUNY Binghamton before joining the University of Sydney, at which I eventually held a personal chair as Professor of Knowledge Systems. I moved to the School of Computer Science and Engineering of the University of New South Wales in August 1996 to assume its third Professorship. I was seconded to set up the Knowledge Representation and Reasoning Program of the National ICT Australia (NICTA) research institute in 2003, the leadership of which I passed to my colleague Prof Toby Walsh in April 2005. I retired in July 2006, but continue my research in UNSW and NICTA as an emeritus professor.

I have two sons, Kerwyn, a medical graduate who is an oncologist at Wollongong Hospital, and Lyndon, an IT graduate who is a business analyst with Energy Australia in Sydney. I am married to their mother Yokelin Tan, an economist who worked for the Royal Australian College of General Practictioners prior to retirement.

Some of my biographical anecdotes may provide amusement, bewilderment or mild embarrassment for the people named. Curious souls may look at some personal photos to associate some names with faces. I am compiling a separate collection of photos specially devoted to my friends from high school and college -- watch this space!

Personal Interests

In my non-professional hours my passions are music (listening, not playing, and mainly chamber these days), history (classical Greece, Rome, the Enlightenment, ancient China, the early American republic), and political economy. I am committed to rather old-fashioned ideals of social democracy and justice. The so-called economic rationalism that is much in vogue is not my idea of justice. If you are not enraged by the hypocrisy of its advocates I am happy to persuade you that you should be. I try to be a good Buddhist, and am a member of the Australian Greens. The Greens candidate in my area is Lindsay Peters. In 2007 he stood against John Howard, the most dishonest and devious Prime Minister the country has had for decades; the winner was Maxine McKew of Labor to whom the Greens had directed their prefrences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, current affairs sometimes consume my hours.

Good jokes provide comic relief from my many worries (see next sub-section for the BIG one), and I invite you to send me your favorites.

Global Warming

My biggest worry today is Global Warming which threatens to end civilization as we know it. The Al Gore docuementary An Inconvenient Truth is a movie that should be seen by everyone. It may now be simply a matter of time before rising sea levels due to the melting of the arctic and antarctic -- the effects of our pumping greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane into the air (due to our cars, our jets, our industries, our power stations, ... ) -- drown cities like New York, Singapore, Amsterdam, etc. Expect to see wild swings of weather from now on.

What can be done to stop, maybe even reverse global warming? It will require a huge international effort, and powerful multinationals have to come to the party. You as an individual can do something. besides lobbying your political masters to act as part of an international effort.

But there are some things you can do NOW to help. One is to STOP BUYING BOTTLED WATER! Why? Bottled water is very energy intensive. And you will save money drinking just tap water in all first-world countries as it is actually safer than bottled water. Even in second world countries like Malaysia tap water is safe for drinking. Refill a plastic bottle with tap water and take it with you wherever you might normally have bought bottled water. It is also safe to leave such a refilled bottle in a car -- it is an urban myth that the plastic leaches carcinogens into the water should the inside of the car get hot; check out Snopes for that.

There is a small but vocal minority of global warming sceptics who deny that human activities cause it. However, most of them are funded by vested interests like oil and coal companies, and "market forces fundamentalists" (George Soros' phrase). Here in Australia the most notorious political names among the global warming deniers are Senator Minchin of the Liberal Party and NSW State Minister Michael Costa of the Labor Party. No party has a monopoly of people who do not understand science but the right-wing ones seem to harbor the majority of them.

These recent articles may help pepole rebut the dishonesty of the global warming deniers.
The Smokescreen
Common Myths
Growing Consensus

The truth about the consequences of global warming is so frightening that many people do not want to know it. But the fact is that unless drastic measures are taken NOW it may well be too late!.

I also maintain a personal web sub-page devoted to climate change issues.

My old School Captain Krishna Rajaratnam wrote a letter to his local papers on what Australia can do NOW. The paper's decision not to publish it is an example of how the seriousness of the problem has not yet penetrated the psyche of our leaders. Read his letter to see what these leaders can do immediately without waiting for other countries to act.

Norman Foo