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

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Neil Custer" <neil.custer@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 6 Jan 2009 17:25:58 -0600
Message-id: <7a5bda850901061525i7f63709br2254a71df0861a40@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Dr. Tolk, As an aside, I am typically very optimistic about the advance of technology in general.  I've worked for the federal government (military) for 28+ years in IT.  In my opinion if you are waiting for "... strong leadership by managing organizations .... in particular government organizations when it comes to spending tax dollars to the maximal benefits of the people, and not just one project.", then you are a bigger optimist than anyone on the forum.  I agree that lack of leadership and knowledge by PMs and IT leadership in the government has been questionable at best for a long, long time.  Perhaps someone here thinks Obama's new government CTO will be our messiah... but I doubt it ;-)

To the rest of the forum:  I have been standing on the sidelines in the forum long enough to see that it appears even the most respected of ontology experts such as yourselves can't agree what the right direction might be to find the holy grail of knowledge capture and reuse.  My humble opinions rarely get even a grumble (perhaps because I'm not a Philosophy PhD that has built ontologies for years, but don't fault me for that--I can still follow your discussions) but I think intelligent people with original ideas can spark a solution if those with the implementation intelligence will listen.  Having said that, I agree with Mr. Wheeler's supposition that there has been little in the "killer app" department to show the true benefits of a foundation ontology, and when even those in a field as advanced as the life sciences community has trouble agreeing on ontological formats, primatives, and what have you, then perhaps the approach needs to be rethought. 

Two ideas I'll float to see if they make any sense whatsoever:

- With so many viewpoints of an ontology's construction and purpose: Pick one benefit and push the construction methodology to the limit to further that particular benefit--perhaps some other natural benefits may fall out as side effects.

- Determine a way to express the ontology construction aspect as an ontological type based on its purpose/benefit.  Then determine methods for these to interact (or more particularly, describe the relationships between them).  It seems illogical to me to try to capture all knowledge in a single ontology, just as it is ridiculous to capture all facts about a domain in a single flat-file "database".  My thinking is that when a single ontological discourse can be captured in something as basic as a table in a database and can be related to other tables in a knowledge domain as easily as building primary keys between tables in a database, then the ability to use the information contained in a set of domain ontologies will take off at an unbelievable pace.

I've been exposed to teams that have been building enormous XML schemas with the intent of modeling all possible uses for all of the data they may want to exchange in an enterprise and the end result is so floppy that it is basically meaningless in terms of the possible descriptive capabilities of XML.  I perceive a similar situation has risen in this forum for trying to find an ontology approach that meets all knowledge engineer's needs and is hitting up against this same conundrum.

On Tue, Jan 6, 2009 at 2:47 PM, Tolk, Andreas <atolk@xxxxxxx> wrote:

I think that this question of "primitives of meaning" is very important, although I do not believe that we will be able to identify such "atomic expressions of meaning" easily. One of the problems is that such atomic expressions may not represent concepts but will only be properties of concepts that gain their meaning from the contexts in which they are used. This leads to the challenge of multi-scope, multi-resolution, and multi-structure models. While the challenges of differences in scope (different concepts are represented) and resolution (different levels of resolution are used) are self-explaining, the challenge of structure is often not perceived.
Chuck Turnitsa and I introduced the example of number- and letter-world. Given, e.g., four properties A1, A2, B1, and B2, number-world uses numbers as the identifying category and uses A1 and B1 to identify concept "1" and A2 and B2 to identify concept "2". Letter-world identifies concept "A" using A1 and A2 and concept "B" using B1 and B2. While both worlds have different concepts, they use the same properties to characterize them. For number- and letter-world, the primitives of meanings are these properties.
The problem boils up when we add more models that may introduce additional levels of resolution. What if in this third model the resolution is higher and the properties become concepts? These observations motivated the thesis that primitives of meaning are context specific and will be comparable to the idea of the "highest common factor / greatest common divisor." If this thesis is true, the primitives of meaning are not easily standardisable in multi-resolution environments. They are valid in a federation of models as long as no model with a higher resolution is introduced. We introduced the idea of a common reference model that is enhanced (increasing the resolution of properties) or extended (adding new properties) using engineering principles. A guess this comes very close to the ideas of a "foundation ontology."

Long story short: I really believe that this is an interesting question and needs to be evaluated with rigor. We may find that there is no general solution, but many practically applicable special solutions, as pointed out by Pat. I agree.


Working in the military Command and Control realm for several years - and in support of multiple nations - my perception may be blurred by some business domain specific constraints, but my experience is that without incentives supporting the use of the standard or real disadvantages when not using the standard (or both) industry partners will always try to bring in their special and often proprietery solutions.
Real education is needed, in particular for project managers and their managers. As rightfully pointed out in this discussion before: if only the community benefits, but the contributing projects pay (without incentive), it is not going to happen.
I have become a pessimist regarding self-emerging standards ... I think that strong leadership by managing organizations is needed, which includes in particular government organizations when it comes to spending tax dollars to the maximal benefits of the people, and not just one project.

==================== ;-)
Andreas Tolk, Ph.D.
Associate Professor Engineering Management & Systems Engineering
Old Dominion University, Norfolk, VA 23529
Voice 757-683-4500 Fax 757-683-5640

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