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Roger Clarke's 'Electronic Payments'

Facts Sheet - Electronic Payments

Roger Clarke ** and Stephen Burns

Version of 26 February 1999
[With a small correction 13 November 2011]

© Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, 1999

Available under an AEShareNet Free
for Education licence or a Creative Commons 'Some
Rights Reserved' licence.

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1. Introduction

This document provides background information on common payment mechanisms, particularly those used in the B2B space. A Glossary is provided.

2. Conventional Payment Mechanisms
2.1 The Primary Mechanisms

There is a wide range of ways in which value can be transferred from a payer to a payee. This section provides an outline of the most common mechanisms of the pre-electronic age:

They will then be used as a basis for describing electronic payment schemes.

(1) Cash

The most common approach has been for the payer to provide the payee with 'currency', i.e. things that have a generally-accepted value, and in particular notes and coins.

In some circumstances, the payee may provide the payer with some kind of token which can only be used in particular circumstances, such as in particular machines that dispense drinks, or that permit the person access to a bus or a ferry. Such a payment instrument is referred to as a 'closed currency'.

The steps involved in a cash transaction are shown in the following diagram.

Exhibit 1: Steps in a Cash Transaction

(2) Cheques

For many decades, a very common means of effecting payment (at least in english-speaking countries) has been for the payer to provide to the payee an instruction to the payer's bank to transfer value from the payer's bank account to the payee's bank account.

As the following diagram shows, this is convenient for the payer, and reasonably convenient for the payee, but highly labour-intensive for the financial institutions, which have to pass paperwork around.

Exhibit 2: Steps in a Cheque Transaction

(3) Direct Credit

An alternative approach is for the payer to provide a payment instruction not to the payee, but to the payer's bank. As the following diagram shows, this is generally a less labour-intensive approach. In some circumstances, the payer may also provide advice directly to the payee, explaining what has been paid and when.

The mechanism has been very common for many decades on the European Continent, in what are known as 'giro' schemes. In Australia, one example is telegraphic transfers; and another is direct credit schemes that are commonly used for volume payments such as salaries.

Exhibit 3: Steps in a Direct Credit Transaction

(4) Direct Debit

In some circumstances, a payer may be prepared to provide a Standing Authorisation to a payee, enabling them to initiate periodic deductions from the payer's bank account. This is most common with regular payments such as quarterly invoices from utilities, and loan repayments to financial institutions. The following diagram shows the steps involved.

Exhibit 4: Steps in a Direct Debit Transaction

(5) Credit-Card and Charge-Card Transactions

A credit-card transaction is initiated by an instruction to a financial institution to make a payment to a payee, and charge the amount against the payer's 'revolving-credit' account. To complete the process, the payer must subsequently make a payment to the financial institution, typically once per month covering all recent transactions. Examples include cards bearing the Visa and MasterCard brands. The primary steps involved are shown in the following diagram.

Exhibit 5: Steps in a Credit-Card Transaction

The authority to charge may be provided in person. The data is captured, typically by making an impression from the card (using a manual 'flick-flack' device) and writing in the transactions details. The card-holder's signature is generally used to authenticate the transaction. These are referred to as 'card-present' transactions.

Over a period of time, a range of additional, 'card-not-present' uses of credit-cards have arisen. Card details may be provided by mail or telephone, and hence such transactions are referred to as MOTO (mail-order/telephone-order) transactions. Authentication by signature is not possible, and hence additional risk-management measures are required.

Similarly, charge-card transactions are instructions to an account-operator to charge against an account that must be settled in a pre-determined timeframe, typically monthly. The steps involved are very similar to those for credit-cards, but the account-operator need not be a financial institution. Examples include American Express and Diner's Card.

2.2 Payment Information Flows

All payment systems involve the flow of information as well as of value:

* Information to the Payer

In many circumstances, the payer needs to be informed of their obligation to pay, including the due date and amount, and the reason. A common means for communicating this information is using an invoice delivered by mail. Commonly, some kind of reference or reconciliation information is included, such as an invoice-number. In some cases, additional information may also be provided, such as an access code, to assist in the authentication of the payer.

There are circumstances, however, in which this information exchange is superfluous, because the payer is aware that a payment must be made by a due date (e.g. monthly loan repayments and group tax payments).

* Information to the Payee or Financial Institution

Where the payer provides information to either the payee or a financial institution, a variety of communications channels may be used, including presentation at a counter, and mail. A common means of ensuring the accuracy of the information sent by the payer is for the payee to provide the payer with a 'turnaround document', which contains the relevant reference information.

* Information to the Financial Institution or Payee

The payer may provide information to either the payee or to their own financial institution, but only in some cases do they provide it to both, and they seldom provide it to the other parties involved, such as the payee's financial institution. These organisations therefore need to initiate information flows, in order to complete the settlement process.

3. Transitional Payment Mechanisms

Payment mechanisms of all kinds have been progressively adapted to exploit the possibilities created by electronic communications. Communications among financial institutions were long ago converted from paper to magnetic media, and later to electronic form. Recently, communications involving the payer and payee have also been migrating into electronic form.

The following represent automation of existing arrangements, without any significant attempt to rationalise the process.

(1) Electronic Initiation of Payment

Credit card details can be provided by fax, by voice-telephony, and by telephone keypad directly into a computer system using Interactive Voice Response (IVR) technology. They may also be captured at an EFT/POS terminal and transmitted using private networks. There is increasing incidence of credit-card details being communicated by email and web-forms over the public Internet.

Because such 'card-not-present' or MOTO transactions lack the authenticating evidence of a signature, they have long been the subject of additional risk-management measures. This need is being addressed in different ways, depending on the communication channel used.

Another approach has been so-called bill-payment services, such as Australia Post's BillPay and the Australian banks' BPay. These involve initiation by voice-telephony, IVR, email or web-form, and are comparable with the direct credit scheme described in section 2.1(3).

A related idea, implemented in Singapore, is to express cheques (or, indeed, any other kind of payment instructions) in email form, signed with a digital signature. Thereafter they can be processed in the same manner as conventional cheques, as described in section 2.1(2), but much faster and less expensively.

(2) Electronic Receipt of Payment Information

Electronic transmission of payment information to the payee enables automation of business processes, and hence enhanced business efficiency. The payee may receive data in electronic form as a result of the initiation being in electronic form, or because an intermediary captures the data.

One example of such an intermediary arrangement is 'lock-box' services. The payer sends a cheque and reference information to an intermediary, which captures and transmits them to the cheque clearing system and to the payee.

Another example is the BillPay service at Australia Post counters, which captures the payment and reference information from turnaround documents, and provides them to the payee.

In addition, bank statements have become increasingly accessible by electronic means, initially using special, bank-supplied software over a dial-up link, but recently also over the public Internet.

4. Non-Internet Electronic Payment Mechanisms

Some new electronic payment mechanisms have been developed, which represent significant further developments on conventional approaches.

(1) Direct Entry

The Direct Credit system described above assumed that a payment instruction was provided in written form. There are several ways in which a payer can transmit a payment instruction to their bank in machine-readable form. These include by transporting the data on a machine-readable medium such as disk or a solid-state storage device, and by transmitting either batches of transactions or individual transactions, by dial-up or over a privately-operated network.

An example of a batch mechanism is Financial Electronic Data Interchange (FEDI). This is a means of transferring payment data, in a structured format, directly between the computer systems of the relevant parties. FEDI is most commonly used for payments between established business partners. Its emergence pre-dates the availability of the Internet, and hence it was originally conducted over private networks.

(2) Electronic Funds Transfer at Point of Sale (EFT/POS) or Debit-Card

EFT/POS provides real-time authorisation and secure authentication, and results in a 'direct debit' to the payer's account. The flows involved are comparable to those for cheques, as described in section 2.1(2) above, but the communications occur electronically, and the processing takes place automatically. Hence the settlement process is a great deal faster and much less expensive.

The EFT/POS Code of Practice for debit-card transactions mandates the presence of the card together with a secure PIN-pad for authentication. As a result, EFT/POS is unsuitable for payments initiated remotely.

The infrastructure is in place and the investment is already amortised over large transaction-volumes. Because of the security requirements, it appears very unlikely at this stage that EFT/POS traffic will migrate from private networks to the public Internet.

(3) Stored-Value Cards (SVCs)

SVCs are a form of token, whereby a payer makes an advance-payment to a payee, and then uses up the token-value at a later time. The flows involved are similar to that for cash, as described in section 2.1(1) above.

The value may be generally-usable, or a restricted-usage closed currency. It may be stored on the card using holes, a magnetic stripe, or, much more securely, chip-based storage.

5. Internet-Based Electronic Payment Mechanisms

This section identifies the mechanisms that make use of the Internet for some aspect of the process. The first of these is specific to the Internet, but the remainder are particular applications of mechanisms introduced in earlier sections.

(1) Electronic Cash

Electronic cash is a form of currency, or of closed currency, that can be transmitted directly over the Internet. The particular product which has made most progress to date is Digicash's eCash. Another which is gathering some momentum is Compaq's Millicent.

The flows involve transmissions not only between payer and payee, but also between each party and their bank. These are, however, automated, and occur fairly quickly. St George Bank [accepted] eCash payments.

(2) Financial EDI (FEDI)

FEDI messages are capable of being transmitted over the Internet (using any of email attachments, or the FTP or HTTP protocols). Application of some security features is likely to be needed, however. The flows are similar to those described under direct credits under section 2.1(3). Most banks provide an FEDI service.

(3) Credit-Card and Charge-Card Authorisation

Card details can be transmitted from payer to payee over the Internet, using email or web-forms. The flows are similar to those described under Credit-Cards in section 2.1(5). This involves risks related to, but a little different from, those which arise in MOTO transactions, and which need to be risk-managed. The credit-card brand-owners (Visa and MasterCard) strongly encourage the use of channel-encryption, i.e. the SSL protocol, to protect the credit-card details against the risk of interception.

A payee that has received card details over the Internet can gain authorisation in a variety of ways. The first two are conventional approaches, whereas the third and fourth make use of the Internet.

(a) Transcribing onto a Paper Form

The payee can write the credit-card details and transaction data onto a bank-approved form, and submit it in hard-copy, just as it does for other MOTO transactions it conducts.

(b) Re-Keying into a Merchant Terminal

The payee can key the credit-card details and transaction data into a merchant terminal, and submit it in electronic form over the normal private network, just as it does for other MOTO transactions it conducts.

(c) Intermediated Payment Schemes

The payee can use the services of an intermediary, which provides a secure link between the payee's site and one or more banks, and supports real-time and/or off-line authorisation of payments. This involves a small setup cost, service may be slow, and fees for such services are generally levied on a per-transaction basis, in addition to the normal credit card merchant discount fee charged by the acquirer bank.

In late 1998, the providers included ABA (covering Westpac, NAB and CBA); Camtech (covering CBA, NAB, ANZ, Westpac, and BankWest, and also used by SOS Pure Ecommerce); and Telstra Surelink.

(d) Direct Payment Links

The payee can install software on its own site, and establish direct and secure communications with the payment authorisation interface at the relevant bank. Transactions can be submitted in real-time, or in batches. Such products are generally provided by specialist third party solutions-developers, who are working towards offering interfaces with each of the major banks. These arrangements generally involve higher setup costs, an up-front establishment charge and maintenance costs, but no per-transaction charge. It is likely to offer faster response.

In late 1998, the providers included Ingenico, a virtual EFT/POS terminal scheme as currently used in St George Bank's Online Credit Authorisation (OCA) and ANZ; Quest a relatively expensive scheme as used in NAB's Interpay scheme; and Unique Micro Design who develop interfaces to CBA's CommLink.

(4) Bill Payment

Bill payment is a form of direct credit mechanism, as described in section 2.1(3). Such schemes normally charge on a per-transaction basis.

The BPay service, introduced in October 1997, was initially restricted to customers of ten member banks; but customers belonging to credit unions and building societies also gained access from mid-1999.

[Australia Post's BillPay is scheduled to be web-based by the end of 1999. Payment can be made via credit-card or by direct charge against a bank account. New clients making a first-time payment via IVR are automatically diverted to an operator who registers the customer and account details and provides a customer ID and associated Personal Access Code (PAC). Hence the foundation is being laid for increased use on the Internet.

[A service called E-Bill was announced by Hermes Precisa Australia (HPA) in early 1999, for implementation in the 1999-2000 timeframe. HPA manages large-scale invoicing for, among other companies, Telstra; and proposes to support payment using web-forms.

(5) Internet Banking

Progressively, banks have made available web-based interfaces enabling their customers to submit payment instructions over the Internet.

6. Choosing Among Electronic Payment Schemes

There is a wide range of both conventional and electronic payment mechanisms. Superficially, it would seem to be more efficient for all payments to be made using a common mechanism.

The reason for the richness and diversity of schemes lies in the widely varying contexts in which payments are made. The characteristics of each mechanism match at least one niche; hence the mechanism is attractive to the payer and/or payee, and is used.

6.1 Factors To Consider

When selecting among alternative payment schemes, a number of factors need to be considered. The following sub-sections briefly review some of the most important considerations.

(1) Suitability to the Particular Context

In some schemes, payment is initiated by the payer, while others enable the payee to cause the flow to occur.

The nature of risks varies between schemes, and so does the question of who bears which risks.

The delays in processing vary, and so does the extent to which the payer can control the date on which the funds are removed from their account.

Some payment mechanisms are suitable for spontaneous purchases, and others only for deliberative procurement processes.

(2) Security

Risks arise in relation to the transfer of value, and different mechanisms embody different risks, or apportion them differently.

Risks also arise in relation to the security of data. In some cases, the payer or payee may have an interest in the mere fact of a transaction not being apparent, e.g. to a competitor. In many cases, the transaction-value and/or the reference information is sensitive. A particular instance of security concerns arises in relation to credit-card details.

Transmission of sensitive data may be performed `in the clear', which gives rise to the risk that card details may be intercepted in transit and used by third parties to initiate fraudulent transactions. Although this risk is little different from those already entailed in telephone ordering and even conventional `flick-flack' voucher transactions, its use is discouraged by the credit-card brand-owners, because it risks compromising the reputation of their schemes.

Protection of card/account details in transit can be achieved using channel-encryption (the Secure Sockets Layer or SSL protocol). This feature is available in the more recent versions of the mainstream web-browsers Netscape Navigator and Microsoft Internet Explorer.

Some schemes use electronic 'wallets' on the customer's machine to encrypt and secure payment details right through to the bank or payment gateway without the agency or merchant ever seeing how the payment is being made. They may also be configured to allow the merchant to obtain payment details. Such `wallets' may be implemented in Java, apply the emergent W3C standard P3P, or use a proprietary product to achieve the same end.

A further initiative in this area is the Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) protocol. Despite many trials, however, the infrastructure to enable SET to be widely used is not yet available. This includes ubiquitous and cheap customer digital certificates and the CA infrastructure to administer such certificates.

(3) Authentication

In order to assure itself that the transaction has been successfully completed, the payee may need to undertake one or more forms of authentication.

Most fundamentally, 'value authentication' is needed, in order to ensure that the money really arrives. This typically involves credit-card authorisation or checking of the bank statement.

In some circumstances, it may be advisable to authenticate the person or organisation on whose behalf the payment has been made. This is most commonly achieved through account-numbers, check-digits and turnaround forms.

In general, there is a need to authenticate the eligibility of the person initiating a transaction to do so. The following authentication processes are currently available:

Other applications of digital signature technology, such as the Secure Electronic Transfer (SET) protocol are also under way, but implementation of such schemes has been slow and their widespread availability will most likely be in the medium term.

Alternatives for specialist users include hand-held single session access key generation devices such as SecurID and Identikey which cost approximately $50 per device and so are not feasible for the general public but are viable for select, high volume users.

(4) Cost

Mechanisms vary considerably in the set-up costs for each party, and in the transaction costs incurred. There are also distortions in costs because of differential taxation treatment. In some cases, the fees are incurred per transaction, while in others they are charged as a proportion of the transaction's value.

A full assessment of costs needs to also take into account the interfacing or integration of the transaction into each party's operational systems.

6.2 Common Choices Among Electronic Payment Mechanisms

As a result of these factors, different mechanisms are appropriate in different circumstances. In particular, high setup costs can be justified by high volumes, or by the mitigation of substantial risks. Low-value, low-risk transactions need to use a low-cost mechanism.

The most cost-effective electronic payment mechanisms appear to be:

Note that there is likely to remain a range of circumstances to which no electronic payment mechanism is perfectly matched, and hence a range of conventional, non-electronic mechanisms are likely to survive over the long term, especially cash.


Authentication - the confirmation of an assertion. Common kinds of authentication are of value, of eligibility, and of the identity of an account-holder or card-holder.

Authorisation - the process whereby a payee ensures that a transaction undertaken using a payer's credit-card is accepted by the financial institution.

Bill Payment - a scheme whereby a payer provides an instruction to their financial institution, to the effect that the payer's financial institution is to apply the payer's standing instructions in order to effect payment to a nominated payee. This may be in the form of a charge against an account, or a charge against a credit-card.

BillPay - a Bill Payment scheme operated by Australia Post.

Biometric - a person-identification technique that is based on some physical and difficult-to-alienate characteristic, such as appearance, social behaviour, bio-dynamics (e.g. the manner in which one's signature is written; or keystroke dynamics, particularly in relation to login-id and password), natural physiography (e.g. thumbprint, retinal and iris scans and hand-geometry), and imposed physical characteristics.

BPay - a Bill Payment scheme operated by the banks.

Card Not Present Transaction - a credit-card transaction in which the card is not available. Card details may be provided by mail or telephone, and hence such transactions are referred to as MOTO (mail-order/telephone-order) transactions. Authentication by signature is not possible, and hence additional risk-management measures are required. See also Card Present Transaction.

Card Present Transaction - a credit-card transaction in which the card is available. Card details can be captured directly from the card, and Authentication by way of signature comparison is possible. See also Card Not Present Transaction.

Charge-Card - a plastic card bearing details of an account, and some means of Authentication (such as a specimen signature), which enables the card-bearer to pass value to a payee by requesting the card-issuer to charge the payer's account with the card-issuer. Examples include American Express and Diner's Club. See also Credit-Card.

Cheque - an instruction by a payer, which is sent to the payee, to the effect that the payer's financial institution is to deduct a sum of money from the payer's deposit with them, and pay it to the payee (or the payee's nominee).

Chip-Card - a standard-sized plastic card that contains an integrated circuit or 'chip' which gives the card the ability to store and/or process data.

Closed Currency - a token that has generally-accepted value but only within a specific context, such as tokens issued for use within a theme-park. See also Currency.

Credit-Card - a plastic card bearing details of an account, and some means of authentication (such as a specimen signature), which enables the bearer to pass value to a payee by borrowing from a revolving line of credit with their financial institution. Examples include Visa and MasterCard, which are brand-names applied to cards issued by financial institutions. See also Charge-Card.

Currency - a token that has generally-accepted value, such as notes and coins. See also Closed Currency.

Debit-Card - a plastic card bearing details of an account, and associated with some means of authentication, which enables the bearer to pass value to a payee by authorising a charge against their deposit with their financial institution. See also EFT/POS.

Digital Certificate - an electronic document issued by a third party (e.g. Australia Post) that assists in the Authentication of the sender of a message over the Internet. The sender applies a Digital Signature to the information being transmitted, in such a way that enables the recipient to ascertain whether the customer did send the message and that the message has not been tampered with en route. This is done using public key cryptography. See also Digital Signature.

Digital Signature - a means of encrypting a message, such that the recipient can be sure that only the owner of a particular encryption key-pair could have originated it. See also Digital Certificate.

Direct Credit - an instruction by a payer, which is delivered to the payer's financial institution, to the effect that the payer's financial institution is to deduct a sum of money from the payer's deposit with them, and pay it to the payee's account with an identified financial institution. See also Giro.

Direct Debit - an instruction by a payee, issued in accordance with an authorisation by a payer, to the effect that the payer's financial institution is to deduct a sum of money from the payer's deposit with them, and pay it to the payee's account with an identified financial institution.

Direct Debit Request (DDR) - an authority being developed by the Australian Payments Clearing Association (APCA) that will replace the PDC Direct Debit authority. It will be held by the payee as proof that they have a customer's authority to debit their savings/cheque account. See also Periodical Debit Type C (PDC).

eCash - a specific Electronic Cash product, developed and (at this stage) owned by the company Digicash.

Electronic Cash - a form of Currency, or of Closed Currency, that can be transmitted directly over the Internet. See also eCash, Millicent.

Electronic Data Interchange (EDI) - a means of transferring data, in a structured format, directly between the computer systems of the relevant parties.

Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale (EFT/POS) - a means whereby a charge against an account with a financial institution can be authorised by the payer at a point-of-sale operated by the payee. See also Debit-Card.

Financial EDI (FEDI) - an application of EDI to payments, whereby payment data is transferred, in a structured format, directly between the computer systems of the relevant parties.

Giro - a particular form of Direct Credit common on the European Continent.

Interactive Voice Response (IVR) - a computerised telephone service that enables selection of options and entry of data using the telephone keypad. This limits the type of information that can be provided by the customer.

Internet - the publicly-accessible set of networks inter-connected by the Internet Protocol Suite, and in particular the low-level protocol set TCP/IP.

Lock-Box Service - a scheme whereby a payer sends a cheque to an intermediary, which captures the payment details and transmits relevant information to both the cheque clearing system and the payee.

Mail-Order/Telephone-Order Transaction (MOTO) - a credit-card transaction undertaken remotely, in particular by mail and telephone, such that the payee is not able to authenticate the payer's authority to use the card. See also Card- Not Present Transaction.

Millicent - a specific Electronic Cash product, developed by Digital Equipment Corporation and owned by the company Compaq.

MOTO - See Mail-Order/Telephone Order Transaction.

Payee - the party to which the payment amount is passed.

Payer - the party making the payment.

Payment Instruction - an instruction to the payer's bank to charge a specified account or credit card and transmit the value to the selected payee account. The value is passed between the respective banks. The payee only receives information such as the amount of payment and customer details, including the payment reference, to enable them to reconcile their bank accounts.

Periodical Debit Type C (PDC) - an authority provided to the customer's bank to debit a specified account upon instruction from a specified payee. The PDC also allows the amount and timing of the debit to be varied as required. The procedure to revoke a PDC is clumsy, requiring attendance at a Bank branch. Once established, customer inertia often results in such authority remaining in place well after the original reason for establishment has lapsed. See also Direct Debit Request (DDR).

Pre-registration - the establishment of arrangements for bill payment. This involves recording the credit card and/or bank account that is to be charged at the payer's request. A customer ID / password pair is issued to the payer, and used on each occasion to authenticate the payer before payment instructions are accepted and processed. Where Direct Debit of an account is requested, a PDC authorisation is also required.

Private Network - any network that is accessible only by authorised participants. It may use any set of protocols, including the Internet Protocol Suite and in particular TCP/IP.

Reconciliation - matching of a payment amount received by a payee to a particular debt owed by the payer. This usually depends on Reference Information, such as that provided in a Turnaround Document.

Reference Information - information (such as customer name and invoice number) used to assist in Reconciliation of a payment with a debt.

Risk Management - an approach adopted whereby particular risks relating to payment transactions are accepted, and preventative, detective and investigative features designed into the process, such that the incidence of loss through error and fraud remains within bounds.

Secure Electronic Transactions (SET) - a particular set of standards, not yet in widespread use, whereby credit-card instructions can be conducted over the Internet in a relatively very secure manner.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) - a particular standard in widespread use, whereby the data transmitted across the Internet between a web-browser and a web-server is encrypted, effectively preventing anyone who intercepts the message from seeing or modifying the contents.

Standing Authorisation - a document, provided by a payer to a payee, enabling the payee to initiate periodic deductions from the payer's account. See also Direct Debit, Periodical Debit Type C (PDC) and Direct Debit Request.

Stored-Value Card (SVC) - a card on which value is stored, such that a payer makes an advance-payment to a payee, and then uses up the stored-value at a later time. The storage may be achieved through physical alterations to the card (holes or edge-nicks), on a magnetic strip, or on a chip. See also Chip-Card.

Telegraphic Transfer - a particular form of Direct Credit long-used in Australia, which enables a payer to arrange for a same-day deposit into the payee's account.

Turnaround document - a document provided by a payee to a payer, which contains information in machine-readable form, and which the payee provides when effecting the payment.


This paper was originally prepared for submission to the then Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business, for its web-site.

Author Affiliations

Roger Clarke is Principal of Xamax Consultancy Pty Ltd, Canberra. He is also a Visiting Professor in the Cyberspace Law & Policy Centre at the University of N.S.W., and a Visiting Professor in the Department of Computer Science at the Australian National University.

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