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Re: [ontolog-forum] standard ontology

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 21 Feb 2009 13:23:12 -0500
Message-id: <49A04690.70300@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ron and Ali,    (01)

That is an excellent question:    (02)

RW> If I were reviewing a proposal for YAO, I would be asking,
 > "What about all the other ontologies that we already have paid
 > for?  Hundreds exist.  How is this new project going to impact
 > them?  Which ones become obsolete? Which ones are going to be
 > improved or reduced in size with this new project?  Which of
 > the owners/authors of the existing government paid-for ontologies
 > are supporting this request? Why are the others not supporting it?"    (03)

A smooth migration path from where we are to where we want to be
is always important.  Instead of proposing another ontology, no
matter it good might be, I suggest that people focus directly on
the questions of relating ontologies that have already proved to
be useful for at least one application.    (04)

Another important direction is to provide a smooth migration path
for the enormous number of existing applications that have no
explicit ontology.  Instead of forcing them to adopt some standard
ontology, a useful approach is to *derive* the ontology by analyzing
both the software and the natural language documentation.  For an
example of how to do that, see the legacy re-engineering application
in the following talk:    (05)

    http://www.jfsowa.com/talks/pursue.pdf    (06)

AH> I thought we'd moved away from FO meaning a unique foundation
 > ontology and instead had decided that FO means Foundation OntologIES.
 > In this respect, Cyc is clearly inadequate, since it only represents
 > one philosophical paradigm, which as we've seen again and again does
 > not meet everyone's needs.    (07)

I moved away from the idea of a unique ontology long ago, but some
people still use the term in the singular.    (08)

As for Cyc, it does have a wide range of potentially incompatible
microtheories, and Lenat emphasizes the point that the upper ontology
is relatively unimportant.  I agree with him on that point.    (09)

AH> Of course, one can develop an app in a silo for cheaper, but what
 > if two companies using different databases decide to merge?    (010)

Such mergers happen all the time.  The best example is the many small
banks that have merged into a smaller number of international banks
in recent decades.  (The recent disasters were independent of whether
or not they had an ontology, so I'll ignore that issue.)    (011)

Almost all banks have a number of services that are very similar
from one bank to the next:  checking accounts, savings accounts,
loans, mortgages, etc.  They all have businesses and private
individuals as customers, and their central focus -- money --
is common to all of them.    (012)

Yet when two banks merge, they *never* merge their databases.
They adopt one of two strategies:    (013)

  1. They continue to run all databases from the original
     companies indefinitely.    (014)

  2. They close all or some of the accounts from one bank,
     reopen new accounts in the database of the other bank,
     and transfer the funds from one to the other.    (015)

Sometimes they adopt strategy #2 without telling the customers.
They simply do the transfer and send the customers a note
saying that the terms and conditions for their accounts have
changed.    (016)

The important point is that the level of detail addressed by
an upper ontology or even a midlevel ontology for banks would
have no effect on simplifying the merger.  The most serious
complexities result from the lowest level details of the
"fine print" of the Ts and Cs of each bank.    (017)

Those Ts and Cs create enough differences in the databases
of the two banks that management cannot tolerate the
potential inconsistencies that could be caused by merging
the independently developed databases.    (018)

And by the way, I am making these comments as a person who
first started to use the term 'ontology' in the early 1980s
and wrote many papers and books about the topic.    (019)

But what I fear the most are claims about the benefits of
ontologies without any evidence to back them up.  As I said
in previous notes, wild claims have caused the "boom and bust"
scenarios that have plagued the field of AI since the 1960s.    (020)

Repeating such claims destroys the credibility of *everybody*
in the field.  I don't care if people want to destroy their own
credibility, but I do care when they bring down the whole field.    (021)

John    (022)

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