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Re: [ontolog-forum] Ontology and methodology

To: "Cassidy, Patrick J." <pcassidy@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 19 Mar 2007 16:51:12 -0500
Message-id: <p06230911c224ac124f28@[]>
>Two comments in response to Peter Brown's reply:
>[Peter Brown]
>>  -1, except for the word "comprehensibility" (as long as you
>>  include non
>>  philosophers, ontologists, etc in that target audience).
>>  Engineering-led projects without architects may perform great on
>>  own, but they often suck when it comes to being understood by anyone
>>  other than the original designers or fitting in with anything else.
>>  ontology development without any desire for, or perspective towards,
>>  interoperability - with anyone beyond their own territory -
>>  is likely to
>>  be abstract, academic, hot-air: you may as well just hand everything
>>  back to the programmers of old and let them grok everything using
>>  variables in their preferred programming language...
>   Interoperability creates its own additional imperatives, yes.  I am
>convinced that **accurate** interoperability (getting the same
>inferences from the same data) requires use of a common foundation
>ontology    (01)

As (some variation of) this view is widely held or simply assumed as 
obvious, allow me to present the case against it. Because if I'm 
right, our future may be a lot easier and less contentious, and we 
might be able to support serious interoperability without needing to 
persuade and agency to fork out $20M and then trying to persuade the 
entire planet to agree to use the result (which will never happen.)    (02)

The alternative vision is one in which (1) people are free to refer 
to, and to re-use concepts and fragments from, other ontologies, 
thereby creating semantic links between them (2) there is a 
universally accepted notational scheme for keeping track of concept 
names and their origins (3) a large number of the common ontological 
options and the relationships between them are widely understood and 
(4) there are a variety of available notational translations - 
ideally using software, but if not that then systematic notational 
changes - between the various options in (3).    (03)

Of these, we have already created (1) and (2), at least in a beta 
form, in the current state of the semantic web standards suite. This 
cost a lot less than $20M as it was largely done by volunteers (who 
were in many cases 'lent' by their commercial employers for good 
commercial reasons.) (3) is beginning to happen in a quiet way, c.f. 
the various 'best practice use guides' and similar: it is really a 
matter of education and the spread of professional expertise. And we 
are also beginning to do (4). Our recent IKRIS work, for example, 
explains how to translate smoothly between a variety of different 
ontological points of view (including "4-d" versus 
occurrent/continuant inspired frameworks, and context/modal/hybrid 
logic based versus others) and has been incorporated into working 
software (admittedly not yet robust enough for use in the wild.) In 
fact, many of these translation techniques have been known for years, 
but they are buried in logic texts or even unpublished memoranda 
(because this stuff was unpublishable in any normal academic venue 
until very recently) which are not widely accessible to programmers.    (04)

There are some things that need to be done. To do (4) smoothly 
requires that much more expressive notations are available than those 
currently standardized by the W3C for the SWeb (though the new ISO 
standard CLIF is a very good start.) But I am very optimistic that 
within a generation, we will have enough ontological content 
available and in regular use on the Web, written in expressive enough 
notations, enough expertise in composing it ands using spread around 
the planet, and enough sheer practical experience of which kinds of 
inter-translation work and which don't, that the entire structure 
will be supporting realistic interoperation for commercial and 
scientific purposes, without anyone ever needing to create the One 
True Unified Upper Ontology.    (05)

To Peter: the analogy to software management would be to the open 
source movement, of course. But in the case of ontology, the 
advantages of interoperability are enhanced by the fact that being 
distributed over the Internet should become the normal case for an 
elaborate ontology. BTW, it is interesting that the big successes of 
the open software movement seem to be those in which final control 
and authority is in the hands of a very, very small group of 
super-mavens, who are able to maintain a 'big picture' without 
management intervention, surrounded by a huge open community of users 
and contributors. And not a manager or an architect in sight.    (06)

>- and the 'foundation ontology' is only the set of ontology
>elements (types, relations, axioms) required to permit the needed
>specification of the meanings of the domain elements that people will
>wish to formalize    (07)

But what could possibly be in such an ontology? Consider a Cyc-like 
effort, aimed at 'common sense'. Now suppose your domain of interest 
is navigating a robot submarine through deep ocean water. You will 
need many purely spatial concepts, but I will lay very good odds that 
no more than one or two of those in the Cyc-style Kbase will be the 
slightest use. You will have to re-think what it means to 'rotate', 
for example, or what 'outside' means. Most of the everyday spatial 
concepts will simply be useless when swimming in a deep ocean. (This 
example actually came up when I was working on the Cyc project, and 
we checked.) Or suppose your domain is describing how viruses get 
inside human cells by tricking their membrane chemistry: will the 
notion of 'boundary' you are using really be similar to the notion in 
the foundation? If the latter is based on mathematical ideas it won't 
be, because the membrane, at this scale, has an elaborate 3-d 
structure. How about 'solid'? Sorry, at this scale the membrane is 
solid-ish perpendicular to its immediate tangent plane, but more like 
a liquid in that plane, so its vesicles can float freely around the 
membrane. Its an odd kind of thing that doesn't exist at the everyday 
common-sense scale at all. Will that be in your foundation ontology? 
Everywhere you look at real domains, one finds new kinds of 'thing' 
that you wouldn't have thought of unless you were working in that 
domain. (The Horatio principle: there are more things in heaven and 
earth than are dreamt of in your ontology.) This is basically why 
these universal ontologies never succeed: nobody has a rich enough 
imagination to think of all the things that might be needed, which is 
another way of saying all the counterexamples to any philosophically 
motivated distinction.    (08)

>, in FOL at a minimum.  I call that the 'Conceptual
>Defining Vocabulary".  I don't know what size foundation ontology will
>be necessary and sufficient, but suspect that it will be in the
>5000-10000 concept range.  I'm trying some experiments to discover what
>that will be.  I think that such a foundation ontology is unlikely to
>be adopted widely until someone with a compelling application makes
>their foundation ontology available, in a form that's easier to learn
>than Cyc or the Java programming language.  Or alternatively, some
>funding agency actually funds the development of such an ontology by a
>large collaborative effort, with interfaces and applications ($10-20
>million over 2-3 years I expect).  I suspect that many of us may be
>sufficiently exhausted by the debates to be ready for that.    (09)

The way to stop the debates is not to legislate one side as the 
winner (that just changes debate into open warfare) but to allow 
everyone to write their ontologies in the way they find congenial 
(informed by a basic knowledge of good engineering practice, of 
course), and to achieve inter-operation by re-use and translation. In 
this framework, all the intellectual, social and economic pressures 
are pushing in the same direction, so inter-operation *will* happen, 
even if the world has to figure out how to do it.    (010)

>[Peter Brown]
>>  I'm not convinced there is yet even a partial reply to my
>>  original post
>>  starting this thread:
>>  " My frustration with many of the threads on this list (and the
>>  list - although I admit that I'm no longer sure what goes where...)
>>  that there seems to be a lot of discussion over detail - of
>>  how to model
>>  this, or how to present that - and not enough to the bigger pictures:
>>  who should be involved in ontology development? What
>>  qualifies them and
>>  how can you judge? How do you start to develop an ontology?
>>  Should you?
>>  How do you introduce quality control? Who decides? Where's the
>>  when you need one?"
>>  Any answers on *these* questions? ;-)
>>  Regards,
>>  Peter
>[PC] Does anyone think we need a "Institute of Ontological Engineering"
>that awards licenses after a qualifying exam??  Should we conjure up
>such an exam?    (011)

If I could get someone to pay my salary for a few months, I could 
write a syllabus, with supporting slides. Yes, this is feasible, I 
think.    (012)

>  Perhaps we can have grades: apprentice, journeyman,
>More immediately, would it be possible to have a reviewed journal of
>ontological engineering that is freely available on the internet?    (013)

A Wiki with reviews? If we had open reviewing (not a bad idea anyway; 
they can still be anonymous) this might be quite feasible.    (014)

>   . .
>. So we can accelerate the process of coalescing as a scientific
>discipline?  I can't afford the existing print journals.    (015)

Me neither.    (016)

Pat Hayes    (017)

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