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Re: [ontolog-forum] Building on common ground

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 29 Mar 2008 18:35:17 -0700
Message-id: <p06230901c4149d4e1c2f@[]>
At 1:19 PM -0400 3/29/08, John F. Sowa wrote:
Pat C. and John B.,

PC>> We are, after all, all grandmasters at the use of our
 >> native tongue, and no one else's intuition is going to
 >> be superior to our own.

Note the word 'use' in the first clause.  Being an expert in
doing or using something does not imply any ability to describe
how one does it.

We are all "grandmasters" in our ability to digest our food.
But that does not imply any ability to describe the process
of digestion -- or to implement it in an artificial digester.

JB> ... first rule of doing linguistic work: don't trust
 > what native speakers claim about their own language!

Example:  Many native Chinese speakers make two confused,
misleading, and false statements about their own language:

  1. Chinese has no grammar.

  2. All words are just one syllable long.

Point #1 merely means that Chinese does not have inflections
for plurals, tenses, etc.  But it most definitely has a
grammar that is as rich and complex as any other language.

Point #2 merely means that each written character represents
one syllable, and most of those syllables can be used as
stand-alone words.  But there is a very large number of
2, 3, and 4-syllable combinations that correspond to single
words in other languages.

PC> I want an ontology that is useful for language *understanding*
 > and reasoning, and as a basis for specifying meaning for more
 > complex concepts.

The question of how people understand language is very poorly
understood, and there are only two certain claims about computer

  1. None of the current systems do anything that could be called

  2. There is no consensus whatever on how computers could be
     designed to understand or what kinds of resources would
     be needed to facilitate such understanding.

Given these two points, however, there is a lot of useful
language processing that can be done, some kinds of ontologies
have proved to be useful for those purposes, but the question
of what kind of ontology is a prerequisite for understanding
(assuming anyone could define that term) is not at all clear.

Further to the above, last week I heard an interesting presentation at PARC by Barney Pell, who has a start-up company to develop a new Web search engine which, he claims, will surge past Google by being able to simply parse - not understand, notice - English queries. This alone represents the culmination of approximately 15 years focused research by several teams at PARC, a total effort of perhaps 75-100 man-years by some of the very best researchers in the field. Anyone who thinks they know how they (or anyone) understand language is, I'm afraid, simply in the grip of a delusion.

Pat Hayes

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