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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontologies and Algebraic Specifications

To: "Horning, Jim" <Jim.Horning@xxxxxxxxxx>, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 26 Feb 2007 23:44:42 -0500
Message-id: <45E3B73A.3040505@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Jim,    (01)

There are several major differences between "structured algebraic
specifications (SAS)" and ontology:    (02)

  1. SAS is a mature field in the sense that there were well
     developed logic-based specification languages in the 1960s,
     and everybody working in the field has a large body of common
     background and experience.    (03)

  2. Although ontology, in the philosophical sense, is a much older
     field with much of the vocabulary and basic concepts going
     back to Aristotle, the word "ontology" wasn't introduced to
     artificial intelligence until the mid-1980s, and the ideas
     didn't spread to commercial awareness until about 2000.    (04)

  3. Unlike the more coherent field of SAS, the people on this
     mailing list (and most of those who attend conferences that
     have the word "ontology" in the announcement) are an extremely
     diverse group.  I won't even try to give an exhaustive listing,
     but just mention some of the more prominent (i.e., noisy) ones:    (05)

     a) Some people who have been working in AI for many years and
        have a strong background in logic, knowledge representation,
        and methods of reasoning and problem solving.    (06)

     b) Some philosophers whose primary research has been in traditional
        philosophy, usually some variant of analytic philosophy that
        uses logic for the analysis of ontological problems.    (07)

     c) Some programmers and systems analysts who have a background in
        software design and development using conventional databases
        and programming languages.  Many of them have a good knowledge
        of logic, but others have only a passing acquaintance.    (08)

     d) Various people who have been working with standards bodies,
        such as ISO and the W3C.  Their background is closely related
        to group (c), but they are concerned about what can or should
        be standardized and why.    (09)

     e) People who have heard about the Semantic Web and would like
        to know how and whether any of this ontology stuff might be
        useful to anything they're doing.    (010)

     f) A few people on this list have a strong background or
        interest in NLP, but most do not.    (011)

     g) Miscellaneous.  People who have some knowledge of various fields,
        including one or more of the ones listed in points a-f above.    (012)

  4. Because of the diversity of background, the view of the elephant
     you get from any email thread depends on who is participating.    (013)

 > Can SAS and ONT really say roughly the same things?  Or are they
 > each only helpful in their own (almost) disjoint domains?    (014)

In principle, ontology encompasses the study of everything that exists.
Therefore, ONT includes SAS as a special case.  In practice, most of
the people on this list have not studied or worked on SAS.  I had some
acquaintance with the Vienna Definition Methodology in the early 1970s,
and I've studied languages such as Z.  I personally feel that SAS
experience would be useful for specifying ontologies, but the subject
matter of ontology is much broader.    (015)

That's my view of the elephant.  But I'm sure that other people have
many different views.    (016)

John    (017)

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