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

To: Pat Hayes <phayes@xxxxxxx>, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Steve Newcomb <srn@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 03 Feb 2009 14:18:45 -0500
Message-id: <49889895.8040908@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Concern for the welfare of generations to come, sufficient to motivate 
careful examination of current trends and technologies from first 
principles, is in very short supply these days. It will come back into 
fashion, one way or another. Alas, it appears that no engagement by me 
in conversation with you will be helpful or revealing.    (01)

Deprecatory name-calling is one way to prevent dangerous dialogs from 
occurring, and this is not the first occasion on which name-calling has 
been used against my efforts to bring forward a less-often-heard 
perspective on the W3C, RDF, and the noxious belief that it's good to 
confound web addressing with subject identification. (I note you say 
nothing of substance here about that or anything else. Bad behavior, Pat.)    (02)

The process of science requires dialog. Since you're the one who's 
closing the dialog, it's ironic that you characterize my perspective as 
not-science, lumping it with creationism and worse. I take comfort in 
the fact that even some great scientific breakthroughs have been 
characterized as not-science by scientists who should have known better, 
but who were more focused on maintaining the status quo than on the 
exploration of ideas and things. I regret that I'm forced to conclude 
that your behavior here appears to place you in the latter category.    (03)

It would still find it interesting to discuss the problem of preserving, 
honoring, and exploiting infinite ontological diversity in a world of 
unpredictable human affairs, with people who are interested in 
developing and exploiting diverse human capital. Those who are 
interested in exclusively machine-based inferencing may not be 
interested, but within my own limited perspective, the problem of 
exploiting machine inference in combination with human insight, and in 
the problem of garnering human insight wherever it can be garnered, is 
very interesting. Scientifically interesting, and not at all 
conspiracy-theoretical or creationistic.    (04)

Pat Hayes wrote:
> On Feb 3, 2009, at 10:16 AM, Steve Newcomb wrote:
> ... 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.
> Pat
>> 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
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