|From:||"Phil Murray" <pcmurray2000@xxxxxxxxx>|
|Date:||Mon, 10 Dec 2007 16:11:41 -0500|
As a relative newbie to formal ontologies, I apologize in advance for imprecise terminology. You did ask for input from the KM community, right?
The Ontolog forum recently featured a wonderful discussion between John Sowa, Leo Obrst and others on standards for ontologies and the utility of ontologies in enterprises. (Ontolog forum, 17-nov-2007) The two distinguished experts disagreed gently on the topic, but it appears that they agree ontologies are important for solving enterprise problems.
I have to object ... also gently ... and with qualifications. The distinguished members of the ontology community have demonstrated that ontologies and other technologies that have evolved from the study of logic and language can be applied successfully to data-mining, interpretation of natural language, and even situation awareness requirements in military scenarios, but the recent buzz about ontologies is -- like the recent buzz about metadata in general -- largely a reaction to the superabundance of unstructured information. From the perspective of what enterprises need in general, this emphasis seems to be an overreaction.
I do believe that ontologies in general and the Semantic Web in particular will play huge roles in "semantic" aspects of business activities. However, overemphasizing ontologies and metadata distracts us from the most common enterprise activities: the core processes of building an opportunity (or a domain) and successfully managing the enterprise. In the knowledge-based enterprise, those processes consist primarily of identifying and evaluating facts and conditions -- statements about market and physical realities. An enterprise or domain -- for example, the extended NASA community -- is the sum of all the conditions and responses for that enterprise.
Stated in a somewhat different way, decisions and and implementation particulars grow out of evaluation and acceptance (or rejection) of ad hoc assertions. By ad hoc assertions I mean statements that identify an opportunity or situation -- for example, "The presence of Chinese and Japanese satellites around the Moon is a threat to our pre-eminence in space exploration." Or "Nanotubes based on composites are the best choice for building a space elevator."
By evaluation of those assertions, I mean such statements as, "This assertion is relevant (or valid)." Or, "This assertion must be expressed more precisely." Other evaluations may consist of identifying (and quantifying) the impact of a set of assertions A on assertion B -- an analog to applying
If ... andIf ... Then logic to conditions in programming. But I'm not talking about precise programming statements. Evaluations are (or can be) collective, quantitative, "fuzzy," qualitative, and/or arbitrary.
No matter what our particular role in a knowledge-driven organization may be, we communicate and evaluate assertions on a daily basis -- in meetings, casual encounters, emails, personal note-taking, forums, and documentation of many types. These activities of the organization are frequent, pervasive, and vital to successful decision making and execution. In spite of that, there is no mandate to apply technology or business practices to making these activities more effective.
That's unfortunate. Assertions and the evaluations of those assertions can be represented explicitly. They can be known -- expressed as structured objects. They can be supported directly by technology, management practices, and education of workers in semantic principles. Decisions can be traced back to the conditions/assertions that influence those decisions.
Objects of this type and relationships among those objects can also be visualized easily. I am aware that software applications for specifying, visualizing, and evaluating assertions do exist. But those I have seen (like the Compendium Institute's Compendium hypermedia tool) seem fundamentally disconnected from goals of precise representation of the meaning in natural language. They lack methods of formally representing assertions as objects that can be addressed with multiple tools, or they simply don't scale well. Others simply don't make the distinction between assertion and evaluation of assertions at all.
Supporting these core semantic activities of the organization should drive how knowledge-development, knowledge-representation, and information-management technologies are selected and implemented in enterprises -- not vice versa. Similarly, the goal of enterprise strategies and personnel-management tactics should be, first and foremost, to make these core semantic activities as effective as possible.
Re-centering our focus on assertions and evaluation of assertions provides several important advantages:
I want to stress that I'm not dismissing the importance of ontologies. Among other things, ontologies should support interpretation and management of assertions and evaluations. But we need to take a step back and re-center our pursuit of effective solutions for the challenges facing knowledge-based organizations. We have to ask,
If this is yet another spin on the issues, I hope it is at least a more positive spin.
Founding member, The Center for Semantic Excellence <http://www.semanticexcellence.org>
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author. Other members of the Center for Semantic Excellence may think they are way off base.
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