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Re: [ontolog-forum] A different approach to ontology

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 15 May 2008 00:01:05 -0400
Message-id: <482BB581.5080802@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat and Rick,    (01)

The procedural approach that Bill Woods advocated in
his Phd dissertation (late 1960s) and developed at BBN
in the 1970s can be interpreted as a variant of a
Tarski-style evaluation function.    (02)

 > In this theory the meaning of a noun is a procedure for
 > recognizing or generating instances, the meaning of a
 > proposition is a procedure for determining if it is true
 > or false, and the meaning of an action is the ability to
 > do the action or to tell if it has been done.    (03)

In effect, the systems that Woods designed and implemented
determined the denotation of an expression in terms of a
particular model of the world.  If that model were stored
on a relational DB, then his algorithms could be viewed
as a way of implementing a database query algorithm with
queries stated in a version of controlled English.    (04)

Around the same time, Ted Codd was proposing similar methods
for querying a database.  But there is an interesting parallel
to their achievements:    (05)

  1. Woods was talking about natural language understanding
     and considered the issues of accessing a database to be
     a relatively simple subproblem.    (06)

  2. Codd viewed the problem of efficient access to a DB in
     a language that human beings could conveniently write
     as a major practical problem.    (07)

Although Woods and Codd developed similar methods (and Woods
was actually a couple of years ahead of Codd), Woods' system
was considered only a partial success because it processed
a subset of English.  Codd, however, was considered the father
of a major new approach to organizing and accessing databases.    (08)

Moral of the story:  If you partially solve a difficult problem,
you won't get as much fame and fortune as if you completely solve
a more modest problem with important practical implications.    (09)

John Sowa    (010)

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