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

totalitarianism

From: Jeremy Carroll <jjc@hpl.hp.com>
Date: Fri, 28 May 2004 10:37:28 +0200
To: public-sw-meaning@w3.org
Cc: JohnBlack@deltek.com
Message-Id: <200405281037.28228.jjc@hpl.hp.com>

Reading the earlier thread 'Comment on "Meaning and the Semantic Web"', 
my mind came to the following (rather old) example.


"This song is dedicated to the World Health Organization, it's a medical 
song and it concerns a disease, whose classification according to the 
Internationational Classification of Diseases is 
three-oh-two-point-zero."
Tom Robinson, intro to "Sing if You're Glad to be Gay" 1978

Bijan and Peter:
> Even if so, we believe we have
> embraced only those portions of anarchy that are necessary to prevent
> totalitarianism, for any proposal for Semantic Web meaning
> that cuts off easy access to disagreements will inevitably end up
> stultifying the Semantic Web.

John:
> I am finding this reference to totalitarianism hard to accept.

Apparantly factual scientific classifications, such as the one that Tom 
Robinson referred to, can convey ways of thinking and assumptions that 
are oppressive and unwelcome (at least to some).
Tom Robinson, using natural language, could refer to this scientific 
classification and then launch into a bitter critique of it from his 
experience. The ability of natural language to refer to other people's 
concepts without agreeing with them, or with only partial agreement is 
the basis of dissent, which is the motor of social change - which at 
least in some cases is for the better (e.g. IMO, in this case).

Because of the monotonic discipline of the Semantic Web it is very hard 
to unsay something: if in referring to something like "Disease" we have 
to effectively assent to someone else's definition, which could will 
include a complete classification, then the formal theories do not 
allow us to unsay part of that definition.

While the imports mechanism that Bijan and Peter suggest is perhaps not 
enough to fully address this problem, the concept of URI ownership 
could be as dangerous as allowing the WHO to own the word "disease", if 
word's could have owners.

I think "totalitarianism" was an appropriate choice of word, as argued 
particularly by Peter. A traditional means of totalitarian regimes to 
first gain hold is to control the press (before television). 
Publication technologies that allow central points of control should be 
avoided.

Of course more up to date examples would be more controversial e.g. 
classifications of marital status, or of wars.

It seems well within scope of the SW that deployed concepts should be 
open to critique, revision and change.

Jeremy




 
Received on Friday, 28 May 2004 04:39:17 GMT

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