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Re: [ontolog-forum] A "common basis"

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Bill Andersen <andersen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 2 May 2007 20:45:07 -0400
Message-id: <DC6324C6-9151-4C5E-8888-7350DCBC3DE6@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Hi Pat,

See below.  

On May 2, 2007, at 18:35 , Pat Hayes wrote:

Chris, John, et al:
   I think that a perfectly feasible "common basis" for
interoperability and integration of multiple ontologies is a foundation
ontology structured as a "conceptual defining vocabulary" that contains
all the concepts that are necessary and sufficient to specify the
meanings of any other more specialized concepts, using subclasses,
relations, functions, and axioms all of whose constant terms are either
(1) contained in the foundation ontology or (2) themselves specifiable
(recursively, if necessary) by terms in the foundation ontology.

As you know, Patrick, I don't think this is even remotely feasible. 
Whats more, it isn't necessary, even if it were feasible.

As with engineering of all software artifacts, the term 'necessary' doesn't really come into play, except when we're bumping into the limits of mathematics or physics, and that's not what's happening here.  There are, of course, many ways to get to some specified effects.  What those effects ought to be with respect to ontologies, and in what areas of application, is a topic that receives little attention, aside from vague promises.

'foundation ontology', described below, will have different points of 
view enclosed in 'contexts',and will be freely expandable, and will 
have ontology-style definitions of concepts in terms of other 
concepts, or more generally inferential connections between concepts. 

You must mean "between names used in the languages of the ontologies so developed".  Surely you don't mean "concepts".

This thing, under another name, is already being constructed. It is 
called the Semantic Web. The ontologies in the SW are your 

No they aren't.  There is no notion whatsoever of "context" at least with respect to the current slate of logical tools available for the Semantic Web, unless you mean by that term something broader that would include languages like IKL that do have something to say about contexts.  So, what are we to do with the current W3C offerings if we want to make good on this context talk?  It is and will be for the foreseeable future left unspecified.  One should expect chaos, not some kind of order that will achieve the aforementioned effects, to ensue.  What reason is there to think otherwise? 

and the entire SWeb, a world-wide distributed entity 
always under construction and never finished, is your 'foundation 

That is pure stipulation.  One might call it more accurately as the Central Dogma of the Semantic Web.

But the main difference is that, rather than being built 
by a committee and located in and controlled by a single institution, 
it is being built by anyone who wants to get involved, is located 
nowhere and everywhere, and is owned by nobody.

Again, we're back to effects.  Who, other than teenagers on myspace, is going to trust anything produced by such a process?  Do you want this kind of thing, for example, undergirding the software that runs your intelligent highway or local nuclear power plant?

I think one of the most destructive lines of debate with respect to computational ontology has to do with the centralized/upper-level vs laissez-faire/semantic-web approaches.  Neither approach has emerged the winner, either analytically, empirically, or any other way.  Centralized development isn't possible for large-scale application, but nor is the million-monkeys approach.  Who says there is no via media?  Why is it, for example, that an approach based on upper ontology – which we all know is likely not to be the final word on what there is – might nevertheless prove more effective at what we want ontology-based software systems to be doing for us?


Bill Andersen (andersen@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)

Chief Scientist

Ontology Works, Inc. (www.ontologyworks.com)

3600 O'Donnell Street, Suite 600

Baltimore, MD 21224

Office: 410-675-1201

Cell: 443-858-6444

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