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Re: [ontolog-forum] Research Illusion

From: John F. Sowa <sowa@bestweb.net>
Date: Mon, 11 May 2009 03:08:06 -0400
Message-ID: <4A07CED6.90101@bestweb.net>
To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@ontolog.cim3.net>
CC: 'SW-forum' <semantic-web@w3.org>, jeremy@topquadrant.com, Mustafa Jarrar <mjarrar@cs.ucy.ac.cy>, Sören Auer <auer@informatik.uni-leipzig.de>, Pieter De Leenheer <pdeleenh@vub.ac.be>
Pat, Azamat, Milton, and Jeremy,

Before commenting on the details, I'd like to say that the issue
is not one of open-mindedness vs. closed-mindedness.  We have
a large number of decent ontologies, but none that anyone could
honestly claim is the ideal ontology that should be declared
as a universal standard for the world.

Cyc is the largest and most widely used ontology so far developed,
but nobody except, perhaps, the Cyclers seems eager to recommend it
as an ISO standard.  There was a proposal to adopt SUMO, DOLCE, and
BFO as the basis for developing an ISO standard ontology.  But there
were loud complaints about those three.  Meanwhile, Wolfram developed
the Alpha system, which is probably incompatible with all of the
above, but which might have some aspects that are better than any.

PC> Well, the ideal foundation ontology (to serve as a means of
 > integrating independently developed domain ontologies) would have
 > in it any primitive concepts that are required to logically specify
 > the meanings of those domain concepts, and would be developed and
 > maintained by an open process involving the entire community of users.

That's a fine goal.  But we don't yet have anything that satisfies
those requirements, and there is no structure in place for generating
something that would.

JFS>>I'd like to ask one question:  Do you believe that you have
 >> sufficient hype and money to make your preference become the
 >> new mainstream?

PC> Aye, there's the rub!!!

Indeed.  Given the proposals, cast of characters, and developments
over the past 20 years, I can't see anything meeting those goals
taking less than 20 years to develop.  A crash project with lots
of money thrown at it would probably be taken over by people who
want to make a fast buck.  I would not trust them to make sound
design decisions.

AA> There have been always the conservative establishment, resisting
 > to innovation, and those committed to novel vanguard knowledge.
 > These groups are irreconcilable opposites, and i doubt that such
 > conflict of opposites could motivate the advancement of forefront
 > metadisciplinary knowledge and its applications.

Perhaps, but there are many more perspectives that must be
reconciled.  The philosophical proponents of pure ontology must
take into account the practical issues of designing a framework
that can accommodate the trillions of dollars of existing software.
They must support a smooth migration path to the future.

AA> You know well the "inventor's paradox" from Polya's
 > How to Solve It, general heuristics for problem solving of
 > all sorts and kinds:
 >
 > "Try solving a more general problem first; for the more
 > ambitious plan may have more chances of success".

I know that little book very well, and I agree with that approach.
It is an excellent heuristic for a mathematician or scientist who
is working on a problem.  But Polya was not discussing the question
of how to organize and coordinate a team of scientists -- or more
likely a team of knowledge engineers -- who are trying to accomplish
the kind of goal that Pat C outlined above.

AA> Even granted all the teams composed of brilliant individual minds,
 > do you really believe that any of these high tasks could be obtained
 > without having solid ontological and semantic foundations, for which
 > a common ontology of meanings is designed for?

As I said to Pat C, that is a fine goal.  But we don't have such a
foundation that people can agree on.  If some large organization
pours millions of dollars or euros into a project to design one,
there are several possible outcomes:

  1. The project is hijacked by people who take the money and run.

  2. Some pointy-haired boss takes charge of the project.  (See the
     Dilbert cartoons for painful examples of what that leads to.)

  3. Very talented people (such as us, for example) join the project,
     and we are assigned to a committee that produces as much results
     as we have seen from the SUO and ontolog email lists since the
     year 2000.

  4. God sends an omniscient savior to earth, who personally chooses
     the best experts to design the best possible ontology that can
     solve all the world's problems.

I won't hold my breath waiting for option #4.

MP> What I suggest is we focus on the small markets of information
 > end-users that are interested in open access to the body of
 > scientific knowledge and technology first. This for now is more
 > than enough to handle.

Focusing on small projects for specific purposes is more likely
to produce useful results.  But we need a framework that can relate
and integrate all those piecemeal results.

JC> whatever our philosophical differences, we agree ... truth
 > should not be hard-coded but somehow emergent.

I can accept that.  For the ontology project, that would imply that
we need a framework that can enable good results to emerge in a
form that can be related to and integrated with other good results.

John Sowa
Received on Monday, 11 May 2009 07:08:39 GMT

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