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Re: Weakness in the Semantic Web?

From: W. E. Perry <wperry@fiduciary.com>
Date: Sun, 04 May 2003 12:20:24 -0400
Message-ID: <3EB53DC8.E877C2A7@fiduciary.com>
To: "Roger L. Costello" <costello@mitre.org>
CC: www-rdf-interest@w3.org

Hi Roger.

Undoubtedly you know what I am going to say to this, but FWIW here it

The point of a semantic web is to enable networked processes to share or
to interchange data and, more particularly, conclusions from data and
logical relationships expressed as taxonomies. The overarching criteria
in implementing this are to afford each process the advantages of
leveraging for its own purposes the taxonomies assembled at every other
node of the web and to achieve universal scale in that undertaking. By
design, this formulation does not accommodate agreement on definitions
in more than the most general terms. Your colleague correctly notes the
entropy as definitions evolve independently over time at autonomous
nodes of this web. Yet such autonomy with respect to definitions is
necessarily the general case, even without consideration for separate
local changes over time. The motivation of this web is to serve the
individual local processes which comprise it. Each such local process
requires data--and the structure, both logical and physical of that
data--to be utterly specific to the particular needs and expectations of
the process if it is to be of any use to that process. In other words,
local requirements of process, including locally-specific definitions
and ontological understandings, have priority over shared semantics or
understandings-in-common because the point of the web is to harness for
the benefit of the whole the expertise of specialized local processes.
To the extent that those processes are indeed specialized, they must
depend upon and indeed prefer locally-specialized definitions of data
and locally-understood ontologies over those aspects of data definition
and of ontological taxonomy which they might share with other processes.

Paradoxically, perhaps, this is not a weakness of the semantic web but
actually the source of its robustness, scalability, and value in
harnessing otherwise diffuse expertise. The apparent option to accept a
priori single, inflexible definitions and canonical ontologies is simply
not a design choice if we are building a web of specialized processes
rather than cloning the implementation of canonical processes for
elaborating agreed semantics. The needs of the local processes must come
first because making the specialized expertise of those processes widely
available is the point of the web. A priori agreement and expected
semantics necessarily yield to idiosyncratic definitions and peculiar
taxonomies because the autonomous processes which the web is designed to
support require peculiarity of perception rather than definitions in


Walter Perry

"Roger L. Costello" wrote:

> Hi Folks,
> A colleague sent me the below message.  How would you respond to it?
> > ... a weakness in the Semantic Web, which is to say that there
> > needs to be universal agreement on definitions or the process
> > breaks down.  Even if there is universal agreement at a point
> > in time, definitions will evolve and mutate, as in regular
> > language.
> /Roger
Received on Sunday, 4 May 2003 12:20:30 UTC

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