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Re: [ontolog-forum] Next steps in using ontologies as standards

To: Patrick Cassidy <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 15:19:01 -0500
Message-id: <4963BCB5.3060100@xxxxxxxx>
Patrick Cassidy wrote:
> The problem with letting the "market" determine standards is that there has
> to be an effective "market", with multiple candidates, and multiple users,
> for it to work.     (01)

Yes.    (02)

> In the case of a foundation ontology, there have been
> publicly available candidates for over 6 years, but as yet there are few
> users (applications, anyone?) and nothing remotely resembling a "market" has
> developed.     (03)

I understand you are talking about a "standard upper ontology", and not 
an ontological version of the Oxford Dictionary of English.    (04)

With my standards experience hat on, I would say that 'nothing remotely 
resembling a "market"' after 6 years translates to academic shelfware. 
If no one is using it, one of the following must be true:
  - it does not effectively support any practice that is (currently) 
perceived to need support; or
  - it is not being used by the people and tools engaged in the practice 
it was intended to support.  Ignorance is a possible explanation; 
not-invented-here is another; and there are many other motivations for 
standards avoidance.    (05)

I'm personally not sure which of those is the case here.  Cyc and SUMO 
were intended to support ontology development, but they don't use the 
languages in vogue, and that alone would be reason 2, seen as reason 1.    (06)

The "common practice" of ontology development is based on RDF and OWL 
and CLIF-like FOL languages.  Adam Pease's opus falls into the last 
category at least, but there was no standard language in that category 
until 2007, and every use of SUMO has required twiddling with the 
formulation to get it into the tool-of-choice.    (07)

But even if you can get the model into your tool, there is the question 
of whether the chosen formulation of a concept enables the tool to do 
useful reasoning.  So support for the practice requires not only 
formulation in a language the reasoning tool can understand, but also a 
pattern of axioms that works well with the reasoning algorithms used by 
the tool.    (08)

> This should give us a clue that we are dealing with a technology
> that is not simplistically analogous to the ones we are accustomed to.     (09)

That is another possible explanation, i.e., that this is uncharted 
territory, and I agree it is also valid.    (010)

It is uncharted territory in the sense that it is not common practice to 
standardize a model and stop there.  ISO and other organizations have 
published "standard reference models" for various things, but their 
primary purpose is to organize a programme-of-work for creating useful 
standards that work together.  Otherwise, we normally standardize models 
as part of standardizing a practice.    (011)

As indicated above, however, the form and structure of upper ontology 
models is critical to their being effective in support of the ontology 
development practices.  Because there is not wide agreement on reasoning 
algorithms, the target practice is not so clear, and thus the 
effectiveness of the standard models may be much narrower than intended.    (012)

> I suggest that, in dealing with a truly powerful and potentially
> revolutionary technology that is aimed at supporting the replication of the
> thinking function of humans, we keep an open mind about what approaches are
> likely to work.     (013)

Yes!  And while we are keeping our minds and options open, it will be 
really hard to standardize models that work with unspecified reasoning 
processes.  Taking this to its "logical conclusion", when we figure out 
how human reasoning works and we can replicate it well enough (Asimov's 
positronic brain), then we can make the fundamental reference ontologies 
that work well with that process.    (014)

Until then, we have to make models that work with the majority of the 
tools on the "market".  If there is no emerging market, there is no 
reason to make a standard for it.  If there is no majority, it is not 
possible to make a useful standard.  But if there are significant 
pluralities and identifiable RoI, we can make multiple such standards.    (015)

(Unfortunately, the Cyc experience was that the cost of the upper 
ontology was generally higher than the return, partly because of a 
continuing evolution that created inconsistencies with prior models. 
And the early experience with SUMO had similar problems.  And rightly or 
wrongly, that experience has tainted and stunted further efforts.)    (016)

> Sure, past experience must be consulted, but when new
> technologies are being developed, over-rigid analogies with previous
> experience may well be more misleading than helpful.  I respectfully suggest
> that prior work on information standards is just not relevant to this issue.    (017)

And I respectfully suggest that Santayana was right.  Wilful ignorance 
of the past is the bane of the information technology industry.  The 
adolescent mentality of software engineers is unbelievable:  "We have a 
new technology; the experience of our forebears couldn't possibly be 
relevant."    (018)

> I might also suggest that the current economic situation might give one
> pause in relying exclusively on the "market" to solve issues.    (019)

Or in postulating a project that requires massive funding. ;-)    (020)

-Ed    (021)

Edward J. Barkmeyer                        Email: edbark@xxxxxxxx
National Institute of Standards & Technology
Manufacturing Systems Integration Division
100 Bureau Drive, Stop 8263                Tel: +1 301-975-3528
Gaithersburg, MD 20899-8263                FAX: +1 301-975-4694    (022)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (023)

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