I agree with all of your comments except the last one about the number of
primitives required to define many fields. It seems to me to be
counterproductive to assume an answer before a proper test is performed.
The relevant precedent of work with the Longman defining vocabulary is, I
believe, highly suggestive of a reasonably small (<10,000) concept set that
can specify the meaning of anything of interest, by combinations of the
primitives. Of course the initial set will be open to supplementation; if
the rate of supplementation is small, it will still serve the purpose of
And yes, any such complex standard not only needs to be able to evolve, it
should be designed so that it can evolve with experience. But for anything
to evolve, it first needs to survive. That is the point of kicking off such
a project with a large (>50) group of designer/developers, so that there
will be a sufficient critical mass of groups with enough of a stake in the
standard to keep it alive until it becomes so obviously useful that
commercial vendors will start to build utilities for it and applications
demonstrating its capabilities.
If it does gain traction, there may well be hundreds of millions of
dollars spent on projects that use it, but that will not be the development
cost, which should be in the low tens of millions (with maintenance costs
perhaps 10% of that per annum, for a while). An important point missing
from this discussion up to now is that we are talking about development cost
for the foundation ontology (not the applications), which very much limits
the amount of work that needs to be done even for developing a powerful
natural-language interface, using the associated linguistic defining
> -----Original Message-----
> From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-
> bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F. Sowa
> Sent: Tuesday, August 19, 2008 3:51 PM
> To: [ontolog-forum]
> Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Semantic Web shortcomings [was Re: ANN:
> GoodRelations - The Web Ontology for E-Commerce]
> Pat, Ron, and Sean,
> There are complex issues involved, and single words like 'foundation'
> or 'framework' can't convey all of them and enable everybody to
> interpret them in consistent ways. As we have seen from various
> emails, there are as many different interpretations of anything as
> there are people who post messages to this list.
> RW>> Who gets to define the medical ontology - drug companies, medical
> >> equipment companies, HMOs, hospitals, WHO, etc.?
> PC> Any member of the project who is interested. Membership in any
> > working group should be fully open - no one can feel 'left out'
> > of anything.
> There is a difference between being "fully open" and letting every
> possible proposal develop independently. There will always be
> conflicts, and every committee needs a method for resolving them.
> Many groups that produce standards and recommendations are open
> in the sense that anybody can submit a proposal or comment on it.
> But there have to be tight controls over the voting and approval
> procedures for choosing among the various proposals.
> Furthermore, as I pointed out in previous notes, the best standards
> usually evolve from well-designed systems that were implemented
> by small groups. Some of those systems might be developed by a
> commercial group (such as FORTRAN from IBM) and others might be
> developed by several institutions with government funding (such
> as the original ARPANET protocols, which became the basis for the
> RW> You are describing an open source project where each member "who
> > is interested" puts in his/her 2 cents and the core group decides
> > what gets committed. This is difficult to fund with taxpayers'
> > money since there is no one who can be held accountable and no
> > organization who can commit to delivering a pre-defined deliverable.
> Consider the development of the original WWW. The foundation was
> ARPANET, which went through a long development as a DoD sponsored
> project before a movement started to open it up (with legislation
> sponsored by Al Gore), and it became the Internet. Then a small
> group with funding from European governments started a project to
> facilitate communication among physics projects around the world.
> That became the original WWW, which was text based.
> Then some people at the U. of Illinois started a small project
> called Mosaic, which got some gov't funding, and provided an
> interface that supported graphics. The WWW guys adopted a
> previous ISO standard called SGML (which evolved from a 1969
> project at IBM called GML) and they called it HTML. The Mosaic
> guys added more features to HTML to support graphics. Later
> they developed a commercial version called Netscape, which was
> so popular that it established a de facto standard for HTML.
> Similar things have been happening with the Semantic Web.
> Cyc received a great deal of funding from the gov't for their
> language called CycL. A former associate director of Cyc,
> named Ramanathan Guha, left Cyc and worked at a couple of
> places, including Apple, where he proposed a much simpler
> notation. Then Guha teamed up with Tim Bray to design a
> version of Guha's simple notation in XML, and they called it
> RDF. But as Bray later pointed out, the initial version of
> RDF was badly designed, and he recommended a cleaner version:
> However, too many people had vested interests in the early
> version, and they resisted attempts to revise it.
> Note that the WWW took a long time to evolve, and the basic
> standards that support it evolved from two totally different
> projects in the late 1960s: ARPANET sponsored by DoD and
> GML by a group of 3 guys at IBM. GML became SGML primarily
> because of the persistence of the man who was the G in GML:
> Charlie Goldfarb. The idea of hypertext was also proposed
> in the 1960s by Ted Nelson, and versions of it were implemented
> by various groups, including Apple.
> But the WWW was not developed by IBM or Apple or DoD, and the
> people who had the original ideas, Nelson and Goldfarb, were not
> involved. Instead, it was done by a tiny group in Switzerland
> at a physics lab called CERN. The group that contributed as much
> or more to the "look and feel" of what most people call the WWW
> were the Mosaic group in Illinois and their commercial version
> called Netscape, which eventually lost out to a another browser,
> also based on Mosaic, but which had a bigger monopoly behind it.
> SB> can you coherently claim that everything can be described in
> > a few thousand fundamental concepts, since what distinguishes
> > them is a language game?
> I would say that the necessary number of defining concepts is either
> 0 or infinity. If you choose 0, all concepts (or predicates) are
> defined implicitly by axioms. If you choose explicit definitions,
> then any positive integer is an inadequate approximation to infinity.
> John Sowa
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