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Sony lab tips 'emergent semantics' to make sense of Web - By Junko Yoshida R. Colin Johnson EE Times

From: Fabien Gandon <Fabien.Gandon@sophia.inria.fr>
Date: Thu, 18 Nov 2004 13:36:13 +0100
Message-ID: <419C973D.7080606@sophia.inria.fr>
To: public-swbp-wg@w3.org


I decided to forward the following extract because it comments on the 
semantic web practices and on the "dedicated team of people at the World 
Wide Web Consortium (which) are dutifully spinning out specs for 
database coding."  ;-)


*Sony lab tips 'emergent semantics' to make sense of Web*
By Junko Yoshida R. Colin Johnson , EE Times
octobre 28, 2004 (10:58 AM EDT)
URL: http://www.eetimes.com/article/showArticle.jhtml?articleId=51201131

Paris  As the World Wide Web Consortium hammers out specifications on 
how to recode the databases of the world so that natural-language 
queries can be intelligently answered online, Sony Corp. says it has 
found a better way.

Sony Computer Science Laboratory is positioning its "emergent semantics" 
as a self-organizing alternative to the W3C's Semantic Web that does not 
require any recoding of the data currently available online. Based on 
successful experiments with communities of robots, emergent-semantic 
technology is built on the principles of human learning, representatives 
of the Sony lab said at an open house here last month.

Much as these communities of "agents" extract meaning (semantics) from 
the character of their interactions, emergent semantics extracts the 
meaning of Web documents from the manner in which people use them, the 
researchers said. Based on just-patented emergent-semantics principles 
for its robots, the Sony scheme harnesses the human communication and 
social interaction among peer-to-peer file sharers, database searchers 
and content creators to append the semantic dimension to the Web 
automatically, instead of depending on the owner of each piece of data 
to tag it.

The latter methodology forms the basis of W3C's Semantic Web. Conceived 
by Sir Tim Berners-Lee, the inventor of the World Wide Web, the Semantic 
Web uses extended markup language to assign "meaning" to elements of Web 
pages. A dedicated team of people at the World Wide Web Consortium 
(www.w3.org) are dutifully spinning out specs for database coding. At 
its open house, Sony argued that this is similar to attempting 
artificial intelligence by writing if-then statements about everything 
in the world  the bane of traditional AI.

"Our emergent-semantics technology is an alternative to the Semantic 
Web," said Luc Steels, director of Sony Computer Science Laboratory 
(CSL). Also at the open house, the lab showed off its latest research on 
the origins and evolution of language, as well as advances in 
computational neuroscience.

A previous research project at Sony CSL called Talking Heads, in which 
Steels played a principal role in 1999, became the foundation for the 
development of emergent semantics. In the Talking Heads project, Steels 
and his team demonstrated how agents could self-organize a shared 
lexicon as a side effect of their interactions. The experiment examined 
how agents might establish relations between a real-world object and a 
segmented image, followed by relating the segmented image to its 

Further, the project studied how a conceptualization can be related to 
an utterance and how this can result in the self-organization of lexical 
and ontological constructs that explain meaning and relationships.

After Talking Heads, Steels' team began developing emergent semantics 
with an eye to solving interoperability problems in sharing data among 
peer-to-peer networks.

Emergent semantics will directly compete against the Semantic Web, which 
requires database vendors to give well-defined meanings to their 
information and thereby enable a common framework for sharing and 
reusing data across application, enterprise and community boundaries. By 
comparison, Sony's mechanism harnesses the communication already ongoing 
between software agents that self-organize a shared lexicon and a 
metadata descriptor, rather than depend on a data's owner to tag it.

"The Web has enormous amounts of information, and yet computers today 
can't communicate without conforming to specified fixed descriptors," 
said Peter Hanappe, associate researcher at Sony CSL. "The world has so 
far tried unsuccessfully to impose a top-down approach, such as the 
Semantic Web."

Hanappe said that in this model, only new data can easily get new 
descriptors attached to it. But there is already a vast amount of data 
online, he pointed out, and no guarantee that even new databases will 
adhere to W3C's Semantic Web specifications.

"We need to deal with legacy systems too," said Hanappe. "It's very hard 
to agree on how to describe certain things as it is, and what needs to 
be described continues to evolve."

The semantic interoperability problem is a big stumbling block, 
according to Sony, even for today's consumers using peer-to-peer file 
sharing of music, pictures or movies. Individuals, each speaking their 
own languages and subscribing to personal styles of organizing and 
categorizing content, already face difficulties in finding content they 
want to share or to exchange. "Users should be able to keep the autonomy 
of their own conceptual organization," said Hanappe, "rather than 
imposing a fixed ontology and taxonomy to each item of content and each 

In emergent semantics, a user's agent bootstraps the information and 
categorization of content, such as the classification of music in 
genres. Through interactions among agents trading "favorite" songs, 
genres emerge that are common to sets of users. Such emergent semantics 
as self-organizing genres are automatically tagged onto the content as 
an extra layer of information rather than depending on people to do the 
tagging, Hanappe said.

Sony CSL filed patents in Europe for emergent semantics last month, 
according to Steels, who claimed that the technology building blocks 
were ready for integration. "The algorithms and mechanisms necessary for 
theoretical models on the interaction of agents have already been 
mastered and are well-understood," he said. "It's just a matter of 
putting this thing to work."



"Programming today is a race between software engineers
  striving to build bigger and better idiot-proof programs,
  and the universe trying to produce bigger and better idiots.
  So far, the universe is winning."
                                                 -- Rick Cook.
|__ _ |_  http://www-sop.inria.fr/acacia/personnel/Fabien.Gandon/
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Received on Thursday, 18 November 2004 12:36:49 UTC

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