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Yorick Wilcks' paper "The Semantic Web as the apotheosis of annotation, but what are its semantics?"

From: Henry Story <henry.story@gmail.com>
Date: Thu, 17 May 2012 18:16:09 +0200
Message-Id: <F7D3FF46-D031-4C90-A464-9F79F38DD908@gmail.com>
To: public-philoweb@w3.org, Yorick Wilks <ywilks@ihmc.us>
Hi,

   Last week at PhiloWeb in Paris [1] Yorick Wilcks presented "The Semantic Web as the apotheosis of annotation, but what are its semantics?" http://staffwww.dcs.shef.ac.uk/people/Y.Wilks/papers/IEEE.SW.untrak.pdf

We had a great conversation. My view is that in short perhaps Yorick does not take into account enough the hypertextuality of the semantic web. It sounds very much like the error AltaVista made when they thought that looking at the links between pages was too complex a task to be doable. Google then used that information, and it led them to the success we now know.

Search engines look at information statistically of course (as they have to given the volume of information they have to work with). But the basis on which they work (html) is not initially put together that way. We can think of html as giving some light weight semantics to the web (the <a href=""...>  and so on.) and the meaning of those tags was not creates statistically: one has to tell an evolutionary tale about its development, which can draw on work in the philosophy of language form thinkers such as Ruth Garett Millikan [2]. This is where I think the semantic web brings some key new elements to the discussion that are not clearly developed in this paper. 

For example I don't see there to be such a big issue between machine readable, and human readable text. They are complementary: the semantic web shows how these can be linked. The links in the RESTfully published ontologies (i.e. one can GET the meaning using HTTP on the URI) makes it easy for developers to produce software as they can quickly find the meaning of the terms - even if those meanings evolve). By making it easy for developers to find the meaning, they can produce useful software - if they are any good - which can then spread the vocabulary, making it more useful through the network effect. Software that reproduces itself and gains strenghty by duplicating the vocabulary it interprets (web browsers are the first example of this) then are where one finds the conceptualisers that solve the problem of Kant “concepts without percepts are  empty, percepts without concepts are blind” that Yorick quotes at the end of the paper.

I tried to show how this is possible in my talk "Philosophy of the Social Web"
http://bblfish.net/tmp/2010/10/26/
where describe this interdependence between data, software that readers it that provide value to users (a distributed social web for example). Given this we can then also understand how we can pop out of the problem of "markerese" and enter a referential semantics: markups are still essential, but meaning as use in a context of a form of life ( as Wittgenstein would have it), a form of life that now includes computers, the network, browsers, linked data readers, humans, and cats, can allow us to have markup AND semantics. So we just have to build it.

Henry

[1] http://calenda.revues.org/nouvelle22666.html
[2] http://www.philosophy.uconn.edu/department/millikan/

Social Web Architect
http://bblfish.net/
Received on Thursday, 17 May 2012 16:16:45 GMT

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