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AbstractFormal ontologies have proved to be a very useful tool to manage interoperability among data, systems and knowledge. In this paper we will show how formal ontologies can evolve from a crisp, deterministic framework (ontologies of hard knowledge) to new probabilistic, fuzzy or possibilistic frameworks (ontologies of soft knowledge). This can considerably enlarge the application potential of formal ontologies in geographic analysis and planning, where soft knowledge is intrinsically linked to the complexity of the phenomena under study. The paper briefly presents these new uncertainty-based formal ontologies. It then highlights how ontologies are formal tools to define both concepts and relations among concepts. An example from the domain of urban geography finally shows how the cause-to-effect relation between household preferences and urban sprawl can be encoded within a crisp, a probabilistic and a possibilistic ontology, respectively. The ontology formalism will also determine the kind of reasoning that can be developed from available knowledge. Uncertain ontologies can be seen as the preliminary phase of more complex uncertainty-based models. The advantages of moving to uncertainty-based models is evident: whether it is in the analysis of geographic space or in decision support for planning, reasoning on geographic space is almost always reasoning with uncertain knowledge of geographic phenomena.
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