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Re: [ontolog-forum] ISO merged ontology effort "MCO"

To: Patrick Cassidy <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "'[ontolog-forum] '" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ed Barkmeyer <edbark@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 14 Apr 2009 12:32:50 -0400
Message-id: <49E4BAB2.2030702@xxxxxxxx>
Patrick Cassidy wrote:    (01)

>   The caveat is, that the process of waiting patiently while ontology
> applications develop and haltingly find themselves wanting to interoperate
> with others, and little by little finding commonalities that they can share,
> is at best slow and I suspect will take generations to arrive at anything
> like a usable common standard of meaning that is useful for widespread
> accurate interoperability.     (02)

Well, at the rate of 1 "generation" per 5 years in the IT community, the 
fact that it might indeed require 2-3 generations does not strike me as 
daunting.  Further, if knowledge engineering of the ontology kind 
actually becomes a major part of software engineering, instead of an 
academic exercise in tool building and a government experiment in 
technologies for classified applications, the experience curve will be a 
lot steeper.    (03)

It is my impression that the existing upper ontology work has 
demonstrated all of the following:
  - that there are certain essentially mathematical concepts that can be 
codified and shared by many practical ontologies
  - that beyond that one can create several levels of upper categories 
that solve no problem of themselves and are directly useful only to the 
development of possibly useful mid-level ontologies that still solve no 
problem of themselves.
  - that the upper level categorization requires ontological commitments 
that are largely irrelevant to the real problem spaces but create 
serious impediments to the merger of mid-level ontologies.    (04)

John Sowa will doubtless tell us that Cyc -- the mysterious and powerful 
Oz -- has seen all of this and conquered it (if only they could tell 
us).  (And if true, it would not be the first time that a military 
technology had to be rediscovered/reinvented by others in order to 
become a useful technology.)    (05)

What Amanda proposes is that we get some real experience using 
ontologies in more than the biomedical and intelligence communities 
before we leap to the conclusion that some particular Gedanken 
experiment will be useful in solving arbitrary unknown problems.
And that experience is actively being acquired as we write -- the first 
"generation" began several years ago.    (06)

> The pace thus far suggest to me that no one
> participating in this list will live to see any widespread adoption of broad
> cross-domain interoperability by this method.  That would be fine if there
> were no costs to waiting, but there are large costs.  We not only lose the
> economic efficiency derivable from data interoperability, we lose the
> potential new and more powerful applications that could be developed more
> rapidly by communities that can learn from each other's results because they
> use a common standard of meaning.    (07)

Well, Pat, think of it this way.  The effort to create a universal 
reference upper ontology with that kind of mandate will be about power, 
not quality.  It will be primarily governed by money and politics, not 
technical excellence, and not knowledge engineering in the field.  And 
my 40+ years of experience warns me the result could be the Windows of 
upper ontologies, and 10 years later we will have patched it into an 
upper ontology that can just barely support most industrial 
applications.  So, if you want to risk repeating the 1990s, all ahead 
full and damn the torpedos.    (08)

I, for one, would prefer to see the next 5+ years spent on in vivo 
testing of knowledge engineering concepts, and on the development of a 
discipline.  Think of it as the medical experience that will give us 
some knowledge of the required properties of your panacea.    (09)

-Ed    (010)

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    (011)

"The opinions expressed above do not reflect consensus of NIST,
  and have not been reviewed by any Government authority."    (012)

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