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Re: [ontolog-forum] Is there something I missed?

To: Steve Newcomb <srn@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 3 Feb 2009 11:59:51 -0600
Message-id: <827BB128-B6A4-450E-8029-3AB5BD8B266A@xxxxxxx>

On Feb 3, 2009, at 10:16 AM, Steve Newcomb wrote:    (01)

... a political (?) rant, which I am not even going to try to debate,  
for the same reasons I will not debate conspiracy theorists and  
creationists. I will just observe that anyone who feels that the world  
would be better served by something different from the Web is  
perfectly free to invent this better alternative and promote it, or  
even sell it. I would advise starting by having someone build you a  
really sexy website.    (02)

Pat    (03)

> Pat, the history of the W3C speaks for itself, in terms that no  
> apologist can completely obscure.  Since its founding by three  
> competing system vendors, much window-dressing has been added,  
> including its many me-too academic members who trade their  
> participation for inclusion in its public and private funding  
> games.  But the W3C's institutional foundation is unchanged.  Since  
> you claim that the W3C is not, in fact, a vendor consortium, the  
> burden is upon you to answer the question: "Why does Tim Berners-Lee  
> personally make all the decisions?"  The correct answer, which  
> amazingly few people fully appreciate, is that the W3C is a  
> dictatorship because it *must* be in order to allow its members to  
> engage in members-only conversations about how the Web will actually  
> work.  The W3C meets the definition of a "conspiracy in restraint of  
> trade" as defined by the Sherman Antitrust Act (an 1890 U.S. law  
> designed to benefit the public by limiting the power of cartels and  
> monopolies).  But W3C's members are not prosecutable as co- 
> conspirators under the Sherman Act, at least theoretically because  
> Sir Tim makes all the decisions, and all the members-only  
> conversations are regarded as merely advisory to him.  This is a  
> fact, not a mere perception, and no amount of spin-artistry can  
> change it, nor can gestures toward W3C's splendid array of public- 
> spirited-seeming window-dressings.
> Does the W3C's work to promote Tim's "Semantic Web" vision actually  
> benefit the public?  It probably does, but the real question is,  
> would a different vision benefit the public more?  I claim that it  
> would.  I make an even more disquieting claim: that W3C's deliberate  
> confounding of subject identification with web-resource  
> identification amounts to nothing less than an attempt to seek rents  
> on all kinds of ideas.   If the W3C were really interested in public  
> benefit, as opposed to private benefit, it would seek a next- 
> generation Web that would intrinsically tend to amalgamate  
> information around subjects of conversation, and that would  
> encourage entities *other* than large aggregations of capital  
> (entities like you and me, for instance) to share and leverage each  
> other's insights, while preserving, honoring, and encouraging  
> diversity, including *ontological* diversity (and meta-ontological  
> diversity, etc.).  The W3C is doing exactly the opposite of this.   
> It's trying to build a vast AI system as quickly as possible, and it  
> is well prepared to pay for it in the coin of civilization's  
> diversity.  For the public, it's a bad deal.  It's not a recipe for  
> world peace and mutual understanding.  It's a recipe for economic  
> and cultural dominance games and, with "luck", empire.  (Whose  
> luck?  Not the public's.)
> It's important to understand that Tim's knighthood recognizes him as  
> a member of the economic establishment (a similar but lesser royalty- 
> bestowed honor is the aptly-named "Order of the British Empire").   
> While the significance of much of what Tim says is as elusive as  
> that of Alan Greenspan's economic forecasts during his tenure as Fed  
> Chairman, this much is clear:
> (a) He wants us all to use a W3C-designed ontology language.   
> Diversity, schmiversity.  The W3C universes of discourse shall be  
> THE universes of discourse on the Web.  And if you're not interested  
> in any of the W3C-blessed levels of support for logical inferencing,  
> you have little to contribute to the "Semantic Web", no matter how  
> much you know, or what you have to offer.
> (b) He wants all ideas to be identified via web addresses.
> Pat, despite what you say, a web address is just a web address,  
> which is why I choose to call it a "web address".  Any use of a web  
> address as the address of a subject of conversation is (i)  
> irrelevant to its use as a web address, unless the subject *is* the  
> web address qua web address, (ii) creates ambiguity at the very root  
> of all expressions, ambiguity that cannot be resolved in a way that  
> maximizes the value of any intellectual commons that uses web  
> addresses as subject addresses, and (iii) to the degree that the  
> confusion between web addresses and subject addresses is publicly  
> accepted, to that same degree rents on publicly-owned ideas can be  
> collected by the owners of the domain names that appear in the web  
> addresses of those ideas.  Talk about privatization!   The "Semantic  
> Web" creates a technological/legal means, at least for aggregations  
> of capital large enough to hire teams of lawyers, whereby public  
> conversations about things that matter to the public can be more  
> privatized, and more big-media-influenced, and even less diverse,  
> than they already are.  This will not serve the public interest.   
> (Well, indirectly, it might serve the public interest by drawing  
> attention to various absurdities in existing law, but it seems like  
> a suboptimal way forward.)
> Economic prosperity is a function of the application of accurate  
> knowledge by *every* actor.  So why isn't the so-very-publicly- 
> minded W3C working to give the *public*, instead of private  
> interests, control of the public's own information?  This is my  
> point: we should not expect the W3C to solve this problem.  W3C is  
> so constituted as to be unable to solve it.  (But I do believe the  
> problem can be solved, nevertheless.)
> I'm making observations from my own frame of reference, here.  My  
> frame of reference is, I think, less constrained by the assumption  
> that whatever's good for big capital is good for the world, than  
> Tim's is.  (I note wryly, in the current context, that it used to be  
> said that, "What's good for General Motors is good for the  
> country.")  Pat, you have caricatured my claim that W3C is a vendor  
> consortium as a claim that the W3C is the slave of its vendor- 
> members.  That's not what I said, and I make no such claim.  What I  
> do claim, and quite accurately, is that W3C's activities serve  
> private interests, not public ones.  Its guiding RDF vision is  
> capitalist-oriented, not commons-oriented.  Its activities and  
> recommendations have actually *impeded* the development of a diverse  
> public intellectual commons.  So it's galling, for me, that W3C is  
> widely perceived as being a public-benefitting organization, when in  
> fact it is a conspiracy in restraint of trade, and when in fact its  
> flagship project is fundamentally and technically ill-suited to the  
> development of a diverse *public* intellectual commons.   The W3C is  
> not interested in such a goal, but we all should be, except for  
> those who insist that being rich means that everyone else is poorer  
> than we are.  (Personally, I feel just the opposite.)
> Pat, your claim that W3C is not a vendor consortium because it  
> observably has so many academic members is unworthy of you.  I was a  
> professor at a well-known public university for 14 years.  My  
> naivete about where research funds come from, and about the reasons  
> why universities join private consortia, did not survive that  
> experience.  How does yours still survive, I wonder?
> Steve Newcomb
>    (04)

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