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

To: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Patrick Cassidy" <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 7 Jan 2009 03:55:31 -0500
Message-id: <026c01c970a5$b225b460$16711d20$@com>



   Just a little further elaboration on some of your points.  Comments are interleaved and labeled [PC-1] to [PC-5]:




Patrick Cassidy



cell: 908-565-4053




> -----Original Message-----

> From: Ed Barkmeyer [mailto:edbark@xxxxxxxx]

> Sent: Tuesday, January 06, 2009 3:19 PM

> To: Patrick Cassidy

> Cc: '[ontolog-forum] '

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

> standards


> 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.


> Yes.


> > 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.


> I understand you are talking about a "standard upper ontology", and

> not an ontological version of the Oxford Dictionary of English.


> 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.



[[PC-1]] there are other possibilities that I think are actually the problem.

(1) people are exploring the use of these ontologies, and actually using them internally, but nothing dramatic has been thus far released for public inspection, and probably nothing of general interest has been developed in spite of ongoing efforts. See point (2)

(2) because a foundation ontology is as complex as the basic vocabulary of a human language, it is time-consuming to learn how to use to best effect, and without an existing dramatic application, efforts to use it are hesitant and starved for funds.  I have seen that problem personally.  This is the chicken-and-egg problem - the first seriously interesting publicly visible application will take a long time to incubate, because of its complexity and low level of funding.

(3) the lack of broad agreement on which of the foundation ontology candidates will become the widely used standard inhibits commitment of significant funding to any one of them.   No one wants to risk going down a dead-end.

(4) Developing an application - even database integration via ontology - is much more costly than developing a foundation ontology that can handle a local problem.  As in (2), lack of prior visible successful applications leads to hesitancy and very low funding for ontology -related projects.  In the government agencies where I worked the first question asked is "is this technique being used in a program of record?" to which the answer was, when I heard it asked a couple of year ago "no, not to my knowledge". The response then is - "we aren't doing research here, and we aren't going to be the first to break in a new technology".  Very short-term horizons for locally funded project inhibits use of a new technology.


The third point can be addressed by the [process I suggest of creating a large user community by funding participation of a large number of developers of the standard.  The killer app will still have to come after the creation of the common foundation ontology.


The short-term horizon effect means that funding will be very slow in coming for ontology applications, and generally inadequate to create the impressive applications that will encourage further use.  Getting the breakthrough visible use of ontology in a significant application will, I feel sure, be accelerated if there is some open-source foundation ontology that is developed by a large group and therefore has a greater likelihood of persisting and developing into a standard than any of the current FO's.  If it is founded on semantic primitives, and therefore has the smallest possible size for its function, it is even more likely to be adopted because of its greater ease of use than other FO's.




> 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.


> 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.


> 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.


[[PC-2]] The choice of some reasoner to use with an FO may well be very important, as you suggest.  The FO should be in a Common Logic conformant language, and should be susceptible to interpretation by a FOL reasoner like Vampire or Prover9, or the Ontology Works system.  But there are variations in the way certain structures are handled (such as forall-exists axioms) and these variations may have serious effect on the results.  I would expect that a project to create a common FO would include a component to choose and tune a reasoner to work well with the FO.  A some point third-party vendors may develop better reasoners that use the same FO, and that would be all to the better, but I agree that it will be important to make sure that some reasoner works well with the FO.



> > 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.


> That is another possible explanation, i.e., that this is uncharted

> territory, and I agree it is also valid.


> 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.


> 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.


> > 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.


> 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.


[[PC-3]] Well, in the absence of positronics I think that some variant of an FOL reasoner will have to be used, but that variant, I agree, needs to be thoroughly tested, and perhaps modified, to accommodate the intended interpretations of syntactical structures in the FO.  As an example, The way that "forall-exists" statements are handled needs to be carefully defined, and there may be (I hope there are) more than one way to do that.  Vampire just skolemizes any instances that are implied but not explicitly defined in the ontology, with the result that the reasoning module produces dense and almost uninterpretable inference traces (for example, from SUMO) containing multiple skolemized individuals  that can be very difficult (for me) to interpret and recognize throughout the course of a trace.  On the other hand, the Ontology Works system allow two possibilities: IC hard and IC soft existentials.  IC hard just stops input and refuses data when an implied individual is not explicitly defined.  IC soft outputs a warning and continues data input.  Neither kind of forall-exists statement is used at query time, the IC-hard existentials are just used like database "integrity constraints" - an elegant solution to the complexity introduced by such axioms.  But I can envision the use of alternative or additional treatments of forall-exists axioms, such as using some of them (specifically labeled) only during certain reasoning processes, or allowing some of them (specifically labeled) to be used to automatically *create* instances at data input time, but not at query time.



> 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.


> (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.)


> > 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.


> 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."


[[PC-4]] IT is not "ignorance" to observe past experience and recognize where false analogies can be misleading.  The best past experience for basing a foundation ontology comes from use of limited defining vocabularies in some dictionaries.  Because the words used in the dictionary definitions are labels for concepts, it is reasonable to infer that there is also a limited set of defining concepts (and ontological representations of those concepts) that would allow ontological description of an unlimited number of terms, concepts, or real-world entities in many domains.  But the experience of past standards efforts are relevant for the foundation ontology only at a stage after there is agreement on the inventory of primitive concepts and ontological representations thereof that will suffice to form the "conceptual defining vocabulary".  At that point, making a standard of the initial foundation ontology may well benefit from prior standards development experience.  Perhaps there were cases where there was a need to develop agreement on some set of primitive data elements (the Java language?) that eventually developed into a standard.  Tales of how that happened might have some relevance, but I suspect that all prior standards had such limited semantic scope that we are truly in uncharted waters in developing an FO as a set of semantic primitive components.



> > I might also suggest that the current economic situation might give

> one

> > pause in relying exclusively on the "market" to solve issues.


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


[[PC-5]] I don't think that $30 million over 3 years qualifies as "massive" in comparison with the costs of lack of semantic interoperability (100 billion per year), or to the costs (government and private) of prior and ongoing efforts to address the semantic interoperability problem by less effective methods. (How much has been spent on Cyc? NIEM? NLP? Data Warehouses?  OWL and its accoutrements?).  Daschle suggests that he will spend 10 billion per year for several years to create a system for exchange of patient health information.  $30 million is about 0.1 percent of that figure.  Very reasonable, considering that all of the computer-interpretable specification of the data could be based on the common foundation ontology.


> -Ed


> --

> 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

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> "The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,

>   and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."




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