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About me

Cliff Jones

I'm a Professor of Computing Science at Newcastle University with research interests ranging from theoretical computer science to dependability applications. I've spent over 20 years of my career in industry. My 15 years in IBM saw the creation of VDM which is one of the better known “formal methods“. For most people, their doctoral studies are “post graduate” qualifications — but I had no degree when Tony Hoare agreed, solely on the basis of my publications, to supervise my doctorate. From Oxford, I moved directly to a chair at Manchester University where we built a world-class Formal Methods group. During my time at Manchester, I had a five-year Senior Fellowship funded by the research council; later I also spent a sabbatical at Cambridge for the Newton Institute event on “Semantics”. In 1996 I moved back into industry with a small software company (Harlequin), directing some 50 developers on Information Management projects and finally became overall Technical Director before leaving to re-join academia in 1999 to take my current chair in Newcastle.

Much of my research focuses on formal (compositional) development methods for concurrent systems and support systems for formal reasoning. Major avenues of current research are listed below. I also retain a strong interest in the history of formal methods.

I am a Fellow of the Royal Academy of Engineering (FREng), ACM, BCS, and IET.

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Designing concurrent systems.

If you think that you can build non-trivial sequential programs that satisfy their specification (have no "bugs") without formal methods, you are probably kidding yourself; but, if you are honest, you have have to confess that there is no chance with concurrent programs. Reasoning about concurrency is a major research challenge. Methods such as rely/guarantee thinking and (various) separation logics certainly help but much more research is required. We have an exciting pair of projects: (UK) EPSRC are funding Taming Concurrency on which Nisansala Yatpanage and Andrius Velykis are the post-Docs and the Australian Research Council is funding a project led by Ian Hayes with the title Understanding concurrent programmes using rely-guarantee thinking.

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Learning proof strategies from experts.

(During and) since my time in IBM, I have had several tries at building support systems for engineers who are trying to use formal methods and I have used a number of systems developed by others (the first of which was Jim Kimg's "Effigy" system). Based on extensive industry industrial experience in the DEPLOY project, I developed the view that there was an unexplored way of using AI techniques. The AI4FM project was joint with Alan Bundy and his colleagues and explored how AI can be used to learn high-level strategies that are used by experts.

The funding for the AI4FM project has now finished but we are still working on a book that will collect the results.

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Dependable Infrastructures

Planning future infrastructures.

The Infrastructure Transitions Research Consortium was an EPSRC Programme Grant looking at the way in which crucial infrastructure systems will adapt to changes such as those that might be brought about by climate and population changes. Most of the resource in ITRC was focussed on the physical infrastructures (energy, transport, water and waste). Our involvement focused on the interaction with ICT.

Our involement ...

We now have a project (joint with EEE) that is funded by HubNet.

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History of formal methods

I have a strong interest in, and commitment to, recording the history of our subject. The fact that Troy Astarte is working on a Historical analysis of programming language descriptions for his PhD and this has given a new impetus to the effort.

  • A joint paper was accepted which Troy presented at HaPoP in Paris.
  • A (long) text comparing four ALGOL 60 descriptions is nearing completion.
  • An earlier paper about formal methods for verification is (Jones, 2003).
  • During 2014, I collaborated with Peter Mosses' PLanCompS project.
  • A paper that I wrote for a book but decided to make available as a Technical Report is Turing and Software Verification.
  • We are building an on-line library of semantics with scanned versions of many source documents that are not easy to obtain.

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Logic of partial functions.

Partial functions are those that can fail to denote proper values for some argument combinations (one can say such functions and/or operators are undefined for some arguments). Partiality occurs frequently in the specification of computer systems and in attempts to prove formally that designs satisfy their specifications. The "Logic of Partial Functions" is a non-classical logic that makes such reasoning both sound and convenient. I continue to do research on LPF.

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Although I do not limit my interest in formal methods to VDM, I do still try to stay abreast of such research and provide pointers to source material.

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The EU-funded Rodin project enveloped methods and tool support for the Event-B method; the larger, industrial project DEPLOY was also EU funded and investigated the transfer of the methods and tools to our industrial collaborators. "Industrial Deployment of System Engineering Methods" is an important summary book.

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Although I now spend most of my time doing research, I happen to love teaching. Apart from the occasional "guest" lecture on other courses, my main commitment at the moment is to CSC3321: Understanding Programming Languages.


There are a variety of other things on which I spend time:

I am a Co-Investigator on the Strata (EPSRC-funded) "Platform Grant"; this is a follow-on to TrAmS-2 and TrAmS (on which I was PI). Strata now incldudes Alan Burns' team at York.


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