W3C home > Mailing lists > Public > public-sw-meaning@w3.org > June 2004

RE: No Standard Semantic Web Pragmatics?

From: Jim Hendler <hendler@cs.umd.edu>
Date: Thu, 17 Jun 2004 13:29:24 -0400
Message-Id: <p0611042bbcf7839855e3@[]>
To: "John Black" <JohnBlack@deltek.com>, "Pat Hayes" <phayes@ihmc.us>
Cc: "Sandro Hawke" <sandro@w3.org>, "Peter F. Patel-Schneider" <pfps@research.bell-labs.com>, <public-sw-meaning@w3.org>

John - somehow in all this mess below you've missed my key point -- I 
don't care whether putting something in RDF counts as asserting it or 
not --  here, let me try this:

Hendler's postulate:  Creating content on the Web in an RDF document, 
or equivalent graph store, is exactly equivalent in terms of speech 
act theory to creating content on the web in HTNL, XHTML or any other 
machine readable format.

There, now based on Hendler's postulate, I can ignore 90% of the 
discussion on this list -- it's that other 10% which seems to me to 
get past the philosophical nonsense and get to what I care about -- 
is there some way I can use pointers in one document to pointers in 
another,  coupled with various tools (including inference and 
reasoning engines) to exploit the content placed there in some useful 
way, perhaps with a set of social conventions that work most of the 
time without being driven to uselessness if some pathological use 
occurs (like someone claiming to be a divine being)

To put it another way, I would like the speech act stuff to be up to 
the client to determine in whatever idiosyncratic way it wishes, but 
we could have some social conventions that make that easier, and are 
usually useful.
p.s. I wanted to rename this to break the thread into separable 
pieces, but Icouldn't actually come up with a better name...

At 11:38 -0400 6/17/04, John Black wrote:
>>From: Jim Hendler
>>Sent: Wednesday, June 16, 2004 5:59 PM
>>At 9:43 -0400 6/16/04, John Black wrote:
>>>>  From: Jim Hendler
>>>>  Sent: Monday, June 14, 2004 7:07 PM
>>>>  >>However, another key idea grew about the same time -- as long as we
>>>>  >>are using URIs, we could make those URIs dereferencable -- that is,
>>>>  >>we could look and see if there is a document there, and if so,
>>>>  >>perhaps that document could describe the link -- RDFS and OWL
>>>>  >>provide vocabularies that live at those links and provide
>>>>  >>information about the "intent" of those relationships.
>>>>  >
>>>>  >No, that is exactly what they do not provide. That is John's point:
>>>>  >there is a gap here precisely because the SW notations only express
>>>>  >CONTENT, they do not express INTENTION.  The stuff about
>>>>  >performatives in the paper I helped write was intended to be a step
>>>>  >towards bridging this gap, since performatives in natural language
>>>>  >are exactly where an intention is expressed unambiguously by stating
>>>>  >- describing - the intention. If enough people say that Jack and
>>>>  >Jill are married, in the right way and under the right
>>>>  >circumstances, then they are married. If I say "I promise to buy you
>>>>  >lunch" then an actual promise got created: I performed a social act
>>>>  >by saying that I was performing it. Very handy, that is: it gets you
>>>>  >from mere descriptions (which we indubitably have in RDF and OWL) to
>>>>  >actual intentional actions: it gets assertings (denials, explicit
>>>>  >non-assertings, endorsements, whatever) actually done, and in a
>>>>  >publicly checkable way rather than being left implicit.
>>>>  Ah, right right right -- I knew you logician types have this bug up
>>>>  your butts about "intent" -- and that is why I put it in scare
>>>>  quotes, but I should have made it even clear i was using the term in
>>>>  an informal and not a technical sense -- however, that said,I think
>>>>  it is this hangup with "intent" somehow being a mysterious thing that
>>>>  is largely to blame for our lack of progress on this social meaning
>>>>  stuff
>>>Could you please elaborate on this attribution of blame to "this hang-up
>>>with 'intent'"? I'm really curious about this. Since it is my intention
>>>to achieve progress on this issue, I don't want to stumble into a
>>>position where I am to blame for the lack of it. (You could leave out
>>>the scatological ad hominem attacks and slurs against professional
>>>groups unless you think that is critical to your point)
>>the ad hominen attacks aren't crucial, but the email gets really boring
>>without them...
>>>>  Consider, if you go to my HTML web page you will see a link to a page
>>>>  that has pictures of my daughter.  You have no way to know what my
>>>>  intent was in putting them there -- you can guess at some
>>>>  possibilities (wrong, I was not trying to raise the price that would
>>>>  be offered for her on the black market) but you can't know what I had
>>>>  in mind.  If I had labeled those photos in RDF, OWL, or KIF there is
>>>>  no reason why I would have told you one whit more about my intent --
>>>>  I might have made it unambiguous that I was averring that the person
>>>>  depicted in the photograph was one with whom I had the familiar
>>>>  relationship of type daughter -- but you still wouldn't have any
>>>>  intent behind it.
>>>Well to the extent that I don't know what your intent was you didn't
>>>communicate. There is nothing wrong with that. Its sounds like what
>>>you intended. I can still view the pictures.
>>the point is you can view the pictures with no idea of why I put them
>>there - which is what I was after
>But that supports my point, the web is used for many good things that
>have nothing to do with assertion of truth values, so it is false that
>every page asserts the truth functional propositional value of its content.
>Say now you want to post some RDF and assert it. How do I know the
>difference? Suppose your intent, whatever that was, in posting this RDF
>page, was the same as it was for your daughters pictures? Could be,
>right? You don't say so I can't tell. There seems to be an unspecified
>assumption that, when it matters, when you do want to assert your RDF,
>it will somehow be obvious. Now who is depending on telepathic
>transmission of intention?
>>>But I disagree with you that I cannot recognize your intent if you
>>>take pains to communicate it to me. Nor am I talking about any
>>>mysterious supernatural mind-melding, telepathy, or otherwise
>>>peering into the interiority of your consciousness. No, I am
>>>talking about one of the most extraordinary properties of human
>>>communication, "...If I am trying to tell someone something, then
>>>(assuming certain conditions are satisfied) as soon as he recognizes
>>>that I am trying to tell him something and exactly what it is I am
>>>trying to tell him, I have succeeded in telling it to him. Furthermore,
>>>unless he recognizes that I am trying to tell him something and what
>>>I am trying to tell him, I do not fully succeed in telling it to him."
>>>-John R. Searle, Speech Acts, p.47
>>I'll work off of this, although I should mention that early in my career
>>I wrote several things (published in long lost workshop proceedings I
>>suspect) that argued with the above - Searle's stuff ignored some pragmatic
>>issues IMHO  -- in particular, the last sentence of the above is one I
>>disagree with - but it's not really germane to this discussion...
>>>And again using "intention" explicitly, "In speaking I attempt to
>>>communicate certain things to my hearer by getting him to recognize
>>>my intention to communicate just those things. I achieve the intended
>>>effect on the hearer by getting him to recognize my intention to
>>>achieve that effect, and as soon as the hearer recognizes what it is
>>>my intention to achieve, it is in general achieved. He understands
>>>what I am saying as soon as he recognizes my intention in uttering
>>>what I utter as an intention to say that thing."
>>>-John R. Searle, Speech Acts, p.43
>>again, can't you understand what is on my web page in ways I may not
>>have anticipated without knowing what my intent was on putting them
>Of course I can. I compare it to this. I like to take my 4 year old son
>to the mall so he can play in the playground. While there, I like to watch
>people. Being a portrait artist in a previous career, I like to observe
>the behavior and faces of the people I see. I observe them talking and
>gesturing to each other. They are not communicating with me, and that's fine.
>And the web can be used for other acts besides communication as well, and
>I can go on line and watch people engage in web posting acts and learn
>things from it and so on. What I'm getting at is, when do I know to start
>treating RDF posting as an assertion of the propositions it contains? How
>am I supposed to know what counts as a speech act and not just another
>web posting act?
>I believe you are arguing my position. So tell Sandro and Peter and Dan
>that posting something on the web is not by default a truth functional
>assertion. Sometimes its just posting behavior. Who knows what for.
>And I can come closer to Sandro's position here. I can observe your
>RDF-posting behavior as well, without taking it to count as communication,
>or even knowing if it should. I can even analyze or reason with the
>propositions contained in the artifacts of your RDF-posting behavior
>without taking them to count as yours or anyone's statements for that
>matter. Now I am really close to Sandro's position. But my point is that
>I can't take that last step, of knowing that now, these propositions
>do count as a communication of the assertion of the propositions of that
>RDF by a certain person. And when it matters, it matters. If it
>doesn't matter, it doesn't matter - and I don't care either.
>And I think that there should be a simple, easy, standard, out of
>the box way to make that intention clear.
>However, your argument below, which I will take the liberty of
>paraphrasing as 'do it with code for now and maybe we can make it
>declarative later', which, if that's what your saying, at least
>acknowledges that there may be something here that needs to be done.
>So I'll stop for now and go back to writing code - lots and lots
>of it - and hope that my code works together with everyone elses.
>>It's unclear to me how much Searle's Speech Act theory really
>>relates to human interaction on the Web (let alone agent interaction)
>>>  So if we simply can argue w/respect to what the links state (in the
>>>  factual sense) and attribute their ownership based on where they are
>>>  asserted (oops, I mean where the bit stream defining them is found -
>>>  since assertion is another bug up the arse) - then perhaps we could
>>>  have made some useful progress on stating "what's in a link"
>>>  >>And technically, that is the heart of the Semantic Web architecture
>>>  >>- links that can be named and described more formally.
>>>  >>
>>>  >>IMO, the social meaning issue arises from the fact that we have
>>>  >>both referencing and dereferecing going on.  When links share a
>>>  >>URI, and there's no document at that URI to dereference, then it is
>>>  >>clear that any meaning of that term is in some sort of off-line
>>>  >>"Social" conventions between the users thereof.  However, when we
>>>  >>add the dereferencing it becomes trickier -- because now we have to
>>>  >>ask if use of the term in some way "commits" to what is in the
>>>  >>dereferencing document, if the owner of that document controls the
>>>  >>use of the term, etc.
>>>  >>
>>>  >>There's lots of other "social meaning" issues on the Semantic Web,
>>>  >>and the threads on this list talk about many of them, but in my
>>>  >>mind the key ones are those that arise from the issue of the
>>>  >>relation between the named terms and the documents that describe,
>>>  >>in some formal way, the use of those terms
>>>  >
>>>  >Well, yes, but (IMO) only because such dereferencing is the only way
>>>  >to establish any kind of link between a URI and anything that can be
>>>  >plausibly attributed agency. In order for a promise (etc) to be
>>>  >done, there has to be an agent doing the promising. Similarly for
>>>  >asserting, denying, etc. . Without agents (and I really do mean
>>>  >SOCIAL agents, not software agents) in the picture, all we have is
>>>  >sentences being looked at: nothing is asserted at all.
>>>And I would add, defining and naming. Unless we also have an agent
>>>acting with the intent and authority to define or name, all we have
>>>is even more sentences. Without it, we are stuck in a room with a
>>>Chinese/Chinese dictionary, trying to ground our symbols in an
>>>endless series of more symbols. I really think this may be the
>>>Grand Synthesis I predicted in our last telecon. We have been thinking
>>>of URI dereferencing as being a means of adding in more formal>
>>>propositions and descriptions to our groundless lists. Instead,
>>>URI dereferencing could be the source of AGENCY, INTENTION, AND
>>>AUTHORITY that really could be the basis of an automated communication
>>>system with reasoning.
>>the ad hominen attacks above were largely aimed at the stuff you are
>>quoting now, and thus I will not respond - if I can't say something nice
>>about Searle's >Chinese room <expletive deleted> I can't say anything at
>>that is - I'd claim any machine that could do what Searle claims in less
>>than infinite time would have to understand Chinese -- and I'd claim that
>>we can get the same sort of pragmatic effcts on the web without having to
>>deal with Agency, intention and authority -- should be noted that I am the
>>ultimate "scruffy" in this, and that Pat has already dealt me some
>>devastating blows in his response to my message (and I've  decided to
>>ignore them, rather than deal with them as Pat and I have been having
>>this discussion on and off for going on twenty years now and I cannot
>>remember how I refuted them last time :->)
>>>However, I don't want to alarm anyone with this word, AUTHORITY, with
>>>its connotations of condign power and all. So I came up with a
>>>replacement, UNDERWRITER. To say your terms are underwritten by
>>>an impressive agent would be to say that agent provides a warranty
>>>promising to compensate you if you use a term they have underwritten
>>>to mean one thing and you lose money because someone misunderstands
>>>you to mean something else. It gives a whole new meaning to Humpty
>>>Dumpty's strategy to have his words mean what he pays them to mean.
>>>That said, I am completely serious about this.
>>look, I understand a lot of this stuff - and if I have heard this
>>argument that if we want agents to be at the heart of e-commerce,
>>trust will be required -- but I also stick my ATM card into bank
>>machines that have access to my real money, and which give me real
>>money, and I know that they have no model of Agency, intention, and
>>authority/underwriting in any real sense -- there's a set of human
>>social agreements with all these things that are enforced by the
>>infrastructure, and tested by trusted entities (the banks) to where
>>I am willing to trust them.  If I find an arbitrary web site that
>>says Peter is a perfect being, then more fool me if I believe it
>>(but it's perfectly fine if I stick it into my crawler results so
>>that when someone asks "perfect being" I return pointers to that
>>page among all the others).
>>In short, I realize what I am really arguing for is some sort of
>>operational semantics of this stuff that makes some sense to us as
>>humans, works well enough in practice for us to build systems out
>>of, and someday can perhaps be formalized as an interesting new
>>means of human-machine interaction.  There's a nice example of
>>that in something called "programming langauges" where operational
>>semantics have gotten us pretty danged far.
>>So put me down as a pragmatist over a Searlean (even if I do tend
>>towards the Surly)
>>>  well, we humans seem to be social agents who handle this assertional
>>>  stuff just fine - we know how to differentiate (at least in
>>>  principle) between "what Pat said" and "What I think Pat meant" - and
>>>  we usually conditionalize the latter in civil discourse -- seems to
>>>  me our Sem Web agents could do the same and we could move on to
>>>  actually looking at this use of dereferencable URIs as something that
>>>  could add a lot of power to the SW if we had some social
>>>  conventions/expectations.
>>so replace "semantic conventions/expectations" with "operational
>>semantics" and you'll see what I've been saying is actually a
>>relatively consistent position
>>  -JH
>>p.s. and if you want to see what I think the basis of operational
>>semantics for this stuff might be, go back to my early messages
>>about URIs and dereferencing in this group
>-- cf http://lists.w3.org/Archives/Public/public-sw-meaning/2003Sep/0050.html
>>>  (i.e. I claim I am legitimized to believe that Peter believes that he
>>>  is a perfect being by dint of stating it on his page -- I may be
>>>  wrong, but then I'm usually wrong about what Peter believes, so
>>>  what's different about this?)
>>Professor James Hendler                   http://www.cs.umd.edu/users/hendler
>>Director, Semantic Web and Agent Technologies       301-405-2696
>>Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab.      301-405-6707 (Fax)
>>Univ of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742      240-277-3388 (Cell)

Professor James Hendler			  http://www.cs.umd.edu/users/hendler
Director, Semantic Web and Agent Technologies	  301-405-2696
Maryland Information and Network Dynamics Lab.	  301-405-6707 (Fax)
Univ of Maryland, College Park, MD 20742	  240-277-3388 (Cell)
Received on Thursday, 17 June 2004 13:30:24 UTC

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