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Re: [ontolog-forum] standard ontology

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 10 Feb 2009 12:53:03 -0500
Message-id: <4991BEFF.9090504@xxxxxxxx>
Two observations.    (01)

Matthew West wrote:    (02)

> [MW] The way I would see it, it is about who  is responsible for what, so
> rather than having a thousand ontologies for units of measure, we get BIPM,
> or the relevant ISO committee they develop their standards through to
> develop it, and the rest of us just use it.    (03)

1) what is the ontology for the SI system?    (04)

BIPM (www.bipm.org), via the International Vocabulary for Measurement 
(VIM) and the relevant SI standards, provides the "abstract ontology" 
for measurement and units of measure.  Formalizing that ontology has 
proved to be difficult.  The axioms for the 'quantity' concept require 
ontological commitments on which the VIM is not clear.    (05)

One of the problems is the notion of "abstraction of specific 
properties".  My computer keyboard is 45cm long.  The "specific 
property" is 'is 45 cm long'.  The abstraction of that (and "similar 
properties") is the concept "length".  What exactly is that abstraction? 
  What axioms does it have?  Is it essentially unary or essentially binary?    (06)

This is the "ontology in your head".  We have a working knowledge of the 
concept 'length', and, for practical purposes "it doesn't make a 
difference what ontological commitment you make".  But if you make 
different commitments, you get different axioms.  What we really mean is 
that we conflate two closely related concepts, because we can make the 
proper interpretation in each case.  But the axioms distinguish them -- 
only one of them is 'length'.    (07)

2) "the rest of us just use it" is the key    (08)

There are dozens of measurement systems in use internationally.  But 
international commerce was greatly hampered by their use in trade.  So, 
to the monetary benefit of nearly everyone, the major trading partners 
agreed on a standard system of measures that could be used directly for 
trade, or at least used as the reference for other measures.  (But that 
didn't happen until 1876, well after the Europeans invaded oriental and 
African trade, and "interchangeable parts" made independent measurements 
a manufacturing issue.)  And "the rest of us just use it" because of the 
Golden Rule -- the people who had the gold made the rules.    (09)

The problem with upper ontologies and reference ontologies is that there 
have to be enough people with the gold who see a reason to make any 
given ontology a reference.  And that means there must be enough use of 
ontologies generally to make the cost of not having a common reference 
noticeable to the guys with the gold.    (010)

IMNSHO, we should stop talking about reference ontologies until we have 
a large and economically or politically important community of practice. 
  Then, the value of reference ontologies will become clearer, and there 
will be motive and money to adopt them or construct them.  But as long 
as our communities are only the farmers in a 20-km radius, the cup in 
the general store and the clock in the Post Office are good enough 
standards.    (011)

-Ed    (012)

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    (013)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (014)

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