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

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 07 Jan 2009 16:28:57 -0500
Message-id: <49651E99.6030609@xxxxxxxx>

I wrote:    (01)

>> 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.      (02)

Pat Cassidy wrote:    (03)

> [[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)    (04)

Well, then the work has a market.  It has customers.  There is no
requirement for customers to publish.  And most ontologies, like most
database schemas, are private.    (05)

> (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.      (06)

But this is true of any technology with a high cost of entry.
Commercial organizations will need to see a pretty strong business case.
If we train young engineers to use the technology, and it is supported
by reliable tooling, that lowers the entry cost substantially.  And
lower cost of entry translates to more rapid adoption.    (07)

> (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.    (08)

This presumes that there are lots of these candidates in existence.
I know of two, and their relationship to standard languages and tooling
support very definitely inhibits the wide use of either one.  In their
current forms, they are already dead-ends.    (09)

It should be possible to translate the published Cyc and SUMO ontologies
into CLIF or OWL/Full, and perhaps that would be a good start.  But then
we come to what real reasoning capabilities and behaviors are required
and whether any available tools have them.  So the translation might
just produce a different dead-end.  But IMHO, translating a work that
has the experience of some usage and considerable evolution is far
better than starting in a green field.    (010)

> (4) Developing an application - even database integration via ontology - is
> much more costly than developing a foundation ontology that can handle a
> local problem.     (011)

First, I have seen no evidence for this.  Second, I simply don't believe
it.  The cost of developing a would-be "foundation ontology" by
committee has proved to be quite high by comparison with the use of
similar resources to build a well-defined application, even database
integration via ontology.  (Been there, done that, have the t-shirt, and
the scars.)    (012)

> 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".      (013)

Yeah. That's called "mission awareness", and it isn't restricted to
government agencies.  And it is why we have grant programs and consortia
that support pilot projects.  To get the funding, you have to stop
talking about abstract "foundation ontologies" and talk up a pilot
application.    (014)

> [[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.    (015)

I think we are in total agreement on this.  But based on recent NIST
experience with Prover9 (erstwhile Otter), I worry that the particular
choices for axiomatic formalization of a concept may determine whether a
given reasoner will or will not produce desired results.  "Tuning" might
require a replacement axiom set for one or more foundational concepts.
And that, in turn, relates to which other supporting concepts are
introduced, and so on.  So the question then becomes:  What percentage
of the original ontology _formulation_ is actually reusable?  What is it
we are actually going to standardize?    (016)

> [[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, ...    (017)

This is more on the same topic.  I agree.  But my point is that the FO
problem is not just getting reasoners to support consistent semantics
for CLIF; it is choosing the axiom set that will give results (at all)
in a particular problem space with a particular conformant reasoner.
Every AI student is conversant with a slew of tuning tricks.  Some are
external to the ontology (steering variables and the like); but some are
internal (helper axioms, concept splitting, and reworking to avoid
certain constructs and interactions).  The internal tuning tricks that
modify the ontology produce a "technically different" ontology, even
though the conceptual intent is equivalent.  And if you "split" and
introduce an intermediate concept, the ontologies are clearly no longer
formally equivalent -- one of them has an extra relation.    (018)

> [[PC-4]] IT is not "ignorance" to observe past experience and recognize
> where false analogies can be misleading.      (019)

Agree.  I have often quoted Mark Twain: ""The trick is to glean from an
experience exactly the knowledge that is contained in it.  A cat which
sits down on a hot stove will never do it again, but it will never sit
on a cold stove again either."    (020)

The problem is to be wise enough to do that.  I don't claim to be, and
this industry certainly isn't.    (021)

> 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.     (022)

I'm a bit out of my element here, but it is my impression that requiring
definition of every concept using only Basic English and other terms
previously so defined will at some point encounter disambiguation
problems.  In primitive natural languages, words extend over time to
have multiple related meanings, and particular combinations are
canonized as the designations for particular specialized concepts, _in
addition to_ their interpretation as circumlocutions.  And that is one
of the traps in language parsing, as you and Chris demonstrated with
"expressive power".    (023)

So, yes, you can get an infinite number of constructs from a finite
grammar and a finite set of terms, but that doesn't mean you can get
arbitrarily subtle semantics from any such set of constructs.  A
"circle" is not "a polygon with a very large number of very short sides".    (024)

What I think this means is that every domain will introduce new
relations that are axiomatically defined in terms of each other as well
as in terms of the FO relations.  From a dictionary point of view, these
new concepts may have "circular definitions".  From an axiomatic point
of view, they are just mutually defined.  (I think Chris made this point
much better.)  The RoI question is: At what point does this set of
introduced domain terms make the FO essentially irrelevant?    (025)

Let's talk about an actual FO and a set of target problem spaces.  (La
prova e nel gusto.)    (026)

In a recent ontology for a very small problem space, there were about
300 relations.  It could have used 20+ Cyc concepts and their axioms.
How valuable is the FO to that domain ontology?  Well, it is nice to
have the concepts and the "part/whole" axioms for physical and logical
collections, except that you have to sift through two dozen such
concepts to find the axiom set you mean in each case.  And you still
have to define the specializations, in order to constrain at least one
of the roles.  If I were more conversant with the Cyc ontology, I
probably would have known which collector I wanted in each case, but
that is after my domain analysis tells me what axioms I need.  Now, once
I had determined what I meant, I found a Cyc concept had all the needed
axioms, including ones I would have forgotten.  OTOH, I had to reject
two similar concepts because they included axioms I didn't mean.
Without Cyc, I defined (most of) the same general concepts, but it took
me several tries to get all the axioms right.    (027)

And saying that a Shipment is a Cyc:group doesn't really provide much in
the way of common semantic basis for comparison with other ontologies.
It took a while to get the domain experts to agree on the rules for a
Shipment.  So we can be reasonably sure that other domain teams will
produce slightly different axiom sets for closely related concepts.  And
in fact, the subsequent project in the same community modified the
model.  That is why I wonder about the utility of the FO.  When it takes
a group of 10 automotive materials managers a day or two to agree on one
model of Shipment, ShipmentUnit and Container, how many different
Shipment ontologies are we going to see?  And who would consider any of
them "fundamental"?    (028)

> 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".      (029)

Yes.  If that set of materials managers were producing an industry
standard, we could definitely use that ontology as part of that
standard.  But the industry will require our group to call our concept
eKanbanShipment and require that we put another 150 people in a room to
agree on the "fundamental" model of Shipment (in 5 years).    (030)

IMO, there is value to putting the ontology in the standard, but it is
not so clear how "fundamental" any such ontology will ever be.  And my
standards experience is that any concept that is _required_ to be widely
used in other standards will have as few axioms as possible.  It will be
as general and as semantically empty as they can make it, in some cases
beyond the point of all utility, so that no group's use of it will have
an axiom they don't want.  Look at the definition of "product" in the
STEP Product Data Exchange standards for a truly useless classifier.    (031)

> [[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.     (032)

Yeah.  My management trots out these statistics for every budget cycle,
too.  You can save that BS for the funding sources.    (033)

The question, Pat, is: How is what you are proposing different from what
the Cyc and SUMO and IFF folks did and _are doing_?  What new insight do
you bring?    (034)

Instead of trying to build FOs, could we just put ontologies in the data
exchange standards, beside the XML schemas and UML models?  It is a lot
easier to do; it is a lot clearer what its immediate value might be --
clarifying, and forcing clarification of, fuzzy textual descriptions,
reasoning about the exchanged data, direct support for semantic
mediation, wider experience in ontology development, education of the
XML-literate, etc.  And if any of these ontologies happens to become an
FO by wide adoption, wow, a diamond in the coal mine!    (035)

-Ed    (036)

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    (037)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (038)

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    (039)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (040)

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