John F. Sowa

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John Florian Sowa (born 1940) is an American computer scientist, an expert in artificial intelligence and computer design, and the inventor of conceptual graphs.[1][2]


Sowa received a BS in mathematics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1962, an MA in applied mathematics from Harvard University in 1966, and a PhD in computer science from the Vrije Universiteit Brussel in 1999 on a dissertation titled "Knowledge Representation: Logical, Philosophical, and Computational Foundations".[3]

Sowa spent most of his professional career at IBM, which started in 1962 at IBM's applied mathematics group. Over the decades he has researched and developed emerging fields of computer science from compiler, programming languages, and system architecture[4] to artificial intelligence and knowledge representation. In the 1990s Sowa was associated with IBM Educational Center in New York. Over the years he taught courses at the IBM Systems Research Institute, Binghamton University, Stanford University, Linguistic Society of America and Université du Québec à Montréal. He is a fellow of the Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence.

After early retirement at IBM Sowa in 2001 cofounded VivoMind Intelligence, Inc. With this company he is developing data-mining and database technology, more specific high-level "ontologies" for artificial intelligence and automated natural language understanding.

John Sowa is married to the philologist Cora Angier Sowa,[5] and they live in Croton-on-Hudson, New York.


Sowa's research interest since the 1970s were in the field of artificial intelligence, expert systems and database query linked to natural languages.[4] In his work he combines ideas from numerous disciplines and eras modern and ancient, for example, applying ideas from Aristotle, the medieval Scholastics to Alfred North Whitehead and including database schema theory, and incorporating the model of analogy of Islamic scholar Ibn Taymiyyah in his works.[6]

Conceptual graph

Sowa invented conceptual graphs, a graphic notation for logic and natural language, based on the structures in semantic networks and on the existential graphs of Charles S. Peirce. He published the concept in the 1976 article "Conceptual graphs for a data base interface" in the IBM Journal of Research and Development.[7] He further explained in the 1983 book Conceptual structures: information processing in mind and machine.

In the 1980s this theory has "been adopted by a number of research and development groups throughout the world.[4] International conferences on conceptual graphs have been held for over a decade since before 1992.[citation needed]

Sowa's law of standards

In 1991, Sowa first stated his Law of Standards:

"Whenever a major organization develops a new system as an official standard for X, the primary result is the widespread adoption of some simpler system as a de facto standard for X."[8]

Like Gall's law, The Law of Standards is essentially an argument in favour of underspecification. Examples include:

  • The introduction of PL/I resulting in COBOL and FORTRAN becoming the de facto standards for scientific and business programming
  • The introduction of Algol-68 resulting in Pascal becoming the de facto standard for academic programming
  • The introduction of the Ada language resulting in C becoming the de facto standard for DoD programming
  • The introduction of OS/2 resulting in Windows becoming the de facto standard for desktop OS
  • The introduction of X.400 resulting in SMTP becoming the de facto standard for electronic mail
  • The introduction of X.500 resulting in LDAP becoming the de facto standard for directory services


  • 1984. Conceptual Structures - Information Processing in Mind and Machine. The Systems Programming Series, Addison-Wesley[9]
  • 1991. Principles of Semantic Networks. Morgan Kaufmann.
  • Mineau, Guy W; Moulin, Bernard; Sowa, John F, eds. (1993). "Conceptual Graphs for Knowledge Representation". LNCS. 699. doi:10.1007/3-540-56979-0. ISBN 978-3-540-56979-4. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 1994. International Conference on Conceptual Structures (2nd : 1994 : College Park, Md.) Conceptual structures, current practices : Second International Conference on Conceptual Structures, ICCS'94, College Park, Maryland, USA, August 16–20, 1994 : proceedings. William M. Tepfenhart, Judith P. Dick, John F. Sowa, eds.
  • Ellis, Gerard; Levinson, Robert; Rich, William; Sowa, John F, eds. (1995). "Conceptual Structures: Applications, Implementation and Theory". LNCS. 954. doi:10.1007/3-540-60161-9. ISBN 978-3-540-60161-6. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: display-editors (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lukose, Dickson; Delugach, Harry; Keeler, Mary; Searle, Leroy; Sowa, John, eds. (1997). "Conceptual Structures: Fulfilling Peirce's Dream". LNCS. 1257. doi:10.1007/BFb0027865. ISBN 3-540-63308-1. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)CS1 maint: display-editors (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 2000. Knowledge representation : logical, philosophical, and computational foundations.[10]
Articles, a selection[11]
  • Sowa, J. F. (July 1976). "Conceptual Graphs for a Data Base Interface". IBM Journal of Research and Development. 20 (4): 336–357. doi:10.1147/rd.204.0336.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Sowa, J. F.; Zachman, J. A. (1992). "Extending and formalizing the framework for information systems architecture". IBM Systems Journal. 31 (3): 590–616. doi:10.1147/sj.313.0590.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 1992. "Conceptual Graph Summary"; In: T.E. Nagle et. al. (Eds.). Conceptual Structures: Current Research and Practice. Chichester: Ellis Horwood.
  • 1995. "Top-level ontological categories." in: International journal of human-computer studies. Vol. 43, Iss. 5–6, Nov. 1995, pp. 669–685
  • 2006. "Semantic Networks". In: Encyclopedia of Cognitive Science.. John Wiley & Sons.


  1. Kecheng Liu (2000) Semiotics in Information Systems Engineering. p.54 states: Conceptual graphs are devised as a language of knowledge representation by Sowa (1984), based on philosophy, psychology and linguistics. Knowledge in conceptual graph form is highly structured by modelling specialised facts that can be subjected to generalised reasoning.
  2. Marite Kirikova (2002) Information Systems Development: Advances in Methodologies, Components, and Management. p.194. states: The original theory of conceptual graphs was introduced by Sowa (Sowa, 1984). A conceptual graph is a finite, connected, bipartite graph. It includes notions of concepts, relations, and actors...
  3. Andreas Tolk, Lakhmi C. Jain (2011) Intelligent-Based Systems Engineering. p.xxi
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 John F. Sowa and John Zachman (1992). "Extending and Formalizing the Framework for Information Systems Architecture" In: IBM Systems Journal, Vol 31, no.3, 1992. p. 590-616.
  5. Cora Angier Sowa (1984) Traditional themes and the Homeric hymns. p.iv
  6. Analogical Reasoning
  7. Sowa, John F. (July 1976). "Conceptual Graphs for a Data Base Interface" (PDF). IBM Journal of Research and Development. 20 (4): 336–357. doi:10.1147/rd.204.0336.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. Law of Standards
  9. Conceptual Structures Home Page. Retrieved Nov 23, 2012.
  10. Knowledge Representation: Logical, Philosophical, and Computational Foundations at Retrieved Nov 23, 2012.
  11. John F. Sowa's publications indexed by the DBLP Bibliography Server at the University of Trier

External links