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

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 20 Jan 2009 14:15:22 -0600
Message-id: <5D8AC8EA-5E2C-4DB4-B70C-AC9242E8F997@xxxxxxx>

On Jan 20, 2009, at 1:10 PM, John F. Sowa wrote:    (01)

> Pat,
> I'm sorry for going overboard in the metaphors, but I get
> frustrated by people who ignore good technology that proved
> its worth in favor of half-vast schemes that nobody would
> have adopted without the hype that was dumped on them.
>    (02)

I have no love lost for OWL, but I still think that RDF is at heart a  
good idea: a very basic, simple, notational/semantic foundation level  
that one can learn in an afternoon and write simple applications for  
in a few days. Or at least that is the idea.    (03)

BTW, I'm working on an improved version which will have full Peircian  
expressivity and be generally cleaned up in many ways. And, of course,  
have a better XML syntax.    (04)

> PH> Nobody, even the people who wrote their specs, claim that
>> RDF and OWL are the ultimate solution or to all problems.
> That is certainly true.  The two people who gave us RDF were
> Guha and Tim Bray.  Guha was the former associate director of
> Cyc, and he became disillusioned with its complexity.  I don't
> blame him for that.
> But I do blame Guha for being far too shortsighted.  He felt that
> most programmers were too stupid to learn logic, and he wanted
> to give them a baby language that they could deal with.    (05)

He and I later tried to get the W3C to use real logic, in our LBase  
proposal:    (06)

http://www.w3.org/TR/lbase/    (07)

Talk about lead balloons. We have to face up to the fact that there  
are many. many people out there for whom FOL is, and will forever be,  
a dark mystery, on a par with black magic and elementary calculus.    (08)

>  What he
> ignored was the fact that the WHERE-clause of SQL supports full
> FOL, and every major commercial web site was built around RDBs.
> I don't have to blame Tim Bray, because he apologized for his
> mistakes in designing RDF.  His major criticism of RDF was
> "It's the syntax, stupid!":
>    http://www.tbray.org/ongoing/When/200x/2003/05/21/RDFNet
>    (09)

What he says there, and I agree with him, is that "All those years  
later, I'm still pretty convinced that RDF was, and is, at the core a  
good idea."    (010)

Almost everyone agrees that the 'official' RDF/XML syntax is a bear.    (011)

> PH> RDF syntax is in fact (that is, definitively according to the
>> specs) defined abstractly, as a graph.
> I certainly like graphs.  But see the mistakes by Guha and Bray.
> PH> [RDF and OWL] represent a viable approach to the problem they
>> were designed for, which was to be machine2machine communication
>> notations for the semantic web...
> They're viable in the same sense that a duckbilled platypus is viable.
> But the world had developed far better technologies many years ago,
> implemented them in relational databases, integrated them with the  
> WWW,
> and taught them to programmers around the world.    (012)

They weren't integrated with the WWW in the required sense. Its one  
thing to be interfaced with the WWW, its something else altogether to  
be the interface for everything else. For example, the Web is, like it  
or not, built on XML technology. No interchange format which ignores  
or tries to replace XML has a snowball's chance of getting adopted.    (013)

I agree that it might have been a good idea to have allowed n-tuples  
from the beginning. This was even being discussed by the RDF WG for a  
while. But there were many problems and complications that would have  
introduced, the implementors loved triple store technology (which  
still runs way faster than DB tables when you have a large enough RAM,  
and we are in the 64-bit address ranges now) and I didn't feel (and  
still don't feel) that this is a serious problem, as it is so simple  
to encode a n-tuple as n triples. We even provided RDF vocabulary for  
LISP-style lists, to make it easier.    (014)

> There was no excuse to go back to triples when everybody was happy
> with N-tuples.    (015)

Everybody wasn't happy.    (016)

> There was no excuse to ignore FOL when all the
> databases of the world supported WHERE clauses that could express
> full FOL.    (017)

They didn't ALL support it, and in any case it doesn't apply to the  
actual information, only the query, and its not full FOL there because  
the quantifiers are all finite. But more to the point, databases are  
only one part of the semantic web. RDF (or whatever replaces it) has  
to provide for many 'customers' and be ready to adapt to uses not even  
considered in DB technology.    (018)

> I certainly admit that SQL is not the world's best notation for FOL,
> but typed Datalog is an excellent notation that can be mapped to
> both an SQL-like notation for RDBs and an English-like notation
> for people who are familiar with those forms.    (019)

Typed Datalog isn't FOL either, it uses NAF and other non-monotonic  
constructions.    (020)

> I'm not recommending that we throw away the work that was done in
> RDF and OWL.  But it's time to recognize that they are not the best
> foundation for the future, they should be treated as legacy systems,
> and we should promote a better foundation that is integrated with  
> RDBs.
> As I said in my previous note, we can do that by moving from N3 and
> RDF to N-N, moving from OWL, SPARQL, and RuleML to typed Datalog,
> and introducing controlled NLs for readability by human beings who
> are not programmers.    (021)

The only 'we' who are going to do this are W3C working groups. If you  
want to convene one, you have to do it yourself or persuade someone to  
do it for you. Just moaning on this or any other email forum isn't  
going to get it done.    (022)

Pat    (023)

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