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Re: Advancing translational research with the Semantic Web

From: Alan Rector <rector@cs.man.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 21 May 2007 07:49:12 +0100
Message-Id: <BDF28690-36EA-41C5-9BF4-FB7D03557EA9@cs.man.ac.uk>
Cc: Phillip Lord <phillip.lord@newcastle.ac.uk>, Marijke Keet <keet@inf.unibz.it>, public-semweb-lifesci@w3.org
To: Chris Mungall <cjm@fruitfly.org>


On 18 May 2007, at 18:10, Chris Mungall wrote:

> I'm afraid I'm unclear how to state the OWL n-ary relation pattern 
> (http://www.w3.org/TR/swbp-n-aryRelations) where I really need it.  
> In all the examples given, the "lifted"[*] n-ary relation was never  
> truly a relation in the first place and always better modeled as a  
> class. It's kind of cheating. What if my n-ary relation is  
> transitive or if the 3rd argument is a temporal interval over which  
> the relation holds?
> I think the former is doable with property role chains. Updating  
> the n-ary relations note with this - and all the other omitted  
> details, such as how to re-represent domain/range, functional  
> properties, n-ary relations in restrictions etc - would take a lot  
> of work and would make it utterly terrifying to the naive user.
> Nevertheless the results are clunky and will need special tool  
> support[**] to avoid going insane.

I'd love to see DLR or similar means worked into future versions of  
OWL or other standards, although I am not the one to comment on the  
logical/complexity issues.   I certainly agree that re-expresssing  
relations as properties carries a modest penalty by being more  
verbose, but it is manageable.

To take the example in question for some relation R, let's take  
temperature as an example.  I shall use the subrelations  
"has_feature" / "has_state" to minimise arguments over what is, and  
is not a "quality" - an issue not germane to this discussion. Also I  
will use "has_state" as the property name so we don't have both a  
property "has_value" and a keyword VALUE.

In the binary relation form in manchester simplfied syntax in OWL 1.0  
we have:

Organism has_feature SOME (Temperature_Feature THAT
         has_temporal_extent VALUE temporal_extent_1 AND
         has_state SOME (has_magnitude VALUE 37 AND has_units VALUE  

where temporal_extent_1 is an individual which has facts
	has_start_time VALUE n AND has_end_time VALUE m.
	has_magnitude is a functional datatype property and has_units is a  
functional property.

where n,m are date-time expressions, for simplicity let us assume  
integers representing milliseconds since some reference point.

Inn OWL 1.1 we can do quite a bit better - although again there is a  
need for improved tools to make it easier.

*	An organism has a given temperature at some point in an interval

anOrganism -->
	has_feature SOME (Temperature_feature THAT
		has_time_point  SOME (has_coordinate SOME int[>=n, <m])

*	An organism has a given temperature throughout an interval.  (This  
has to be expressed as "Any temperature feature of the individual  
anOrganism in the time interval has the given state"

Temperature_feature THAT
	is_had_by VALUE anOrganism AND
         has_time_point (Some has_coordinate SOME int[>=n, <m]) -->

where 	is_time_point_of: inverse has_time_point
		has_time_point: functional
		Axiom: 	(Feature THAT has_time_point SOME Time_point) has_value Max  
1 State.
		has_coordinate is used here with int since I am assuming it is  
measured in "ticks since basepoint", but could equally well be a float

> Nevertheless the results are clunky and will need special tool  
> support[**] to avoid going insane. In general I am wary of design  
> pattern type things - they are usually a sign that the language  
> lacks the constructs required to express things unambiguously and  
> concisely.

Separate "unambiguously" and "concisely".  Whether or not there is  
something ambiguous about a design pattern depends on the case.  In  
this case I think there is no ambiguity.  "Concisely" is a matter for  
tools and layered "higher level languages".

The history of computing is the history of "design patterns" at one  
level that eventually get built into "higher level languages" at the  
next level of abstraction up.  No one would argue against layoring  
more convenient languages on top of OWL ( or its successors).  The  
patterns are a first step towards this end, just as they were in the  
early days of programming languages.  Neither would anyone argue  
against more expressive languages.

But I would argue that building on known, tested, and proven  
semantics and computational methods is preferable to inventing new  
ones.  I'd rather spend my time on improving tooling for something  
well-understood, standardised, and supported by a community of  
specialists than on trying to invent something new on my own that was  
likely to be none of these things.   I'll invent when I have to -  
when I am convinced that the best available methods do not meet  
mission critical needs.  But I take a lot of convincing, and even if  
convinced I will build out from the well understood foundations  
wherever possible, with just enough extra invention to do what is  

I speak from experience.  I've done both.



Alan Rector
Professor of Medical Informatics
School of Computer Science
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL, UK
TEL +44 (0) 161 275 6149/6188
FAX +44 (0) 161 275 6204
Received on Monday, 21 May 2007 06:49:28 UTC

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