I've come to think that data-sharing is not a good reason to involve
oneself in ontology. As you mentioned, programs have been shuttling
data back and forth for over 50 years quite fine without ontologists
Naturally, data-sharing would be much easier if we all agreed upon a
single model to use. This would encourage us to understand Ontology as
the study of making one model to replace them all, and ontologists as
the people who do a lot of talking in order to reach agreement on this
one model. (02)
A different approach to data-sharing would be to formalize as much of
the semantics of a dataset as possible. Once the meanings were made
explicit in a formal-enough manner, we could hope that there'd be some
program we might write that would generate mappings to share data in a
way that preserved this formal meaning. In this way, ontologists do
less talking and more writing as they translate natural-language
definitions into a more formal variety. (03)
The first strategy to sharing data doesn't seem to scale particularly
well, and ultimately seems to benefit more from people who train in
facilitating meetings than people with a background in mathematics,
computer science, linguistics, or philosophy. (04)
The second strategy would be great if we had such programs to leverage
rich formal definitions, but we're not quite there yet. This may be the
solar box you're looking for, and would be damned neat if it were found. (05)
However, I do think that a good reason for involving oneself in ontology
is not to share data, but instead to formalize semantics. There seem to
be quite a lot of prospects for data with formal semantics (data sharing
being one), and many current uses for them as well (e.g. lighter user
interfaces that can depend on the inferences explicit in an ontology and
realized by some reasoner). Thus, I'm not disagreeing with you on the
importance of solar boxes, but only on your short answer to why we need
> ontologies are necessary for sharing and interoperability.
John F. Sowa wrote:
> This forum have addressed many important issues about ontologies:
> What is an ontology? What kinds of languages should we use to
> write ontologies? How can we relate different ontologies to
> one another? How can we get money to build bigger and better
> But other important questions haven't received much attention:
> Why do we need ontologies? How are current ontologies being used?
> What are the successes and failures of projects that use ontologies?
> How do they compare to the successes and failures of similar projects
> that do not use explicit ontologies?
> One very short answer to many of those questions is that ontologies
> are necessary for sharing and interoperability.
> But computer systems have been interoperating since the 1950s.
> In fact, the organization named SHARE was founded in the 1950s as
> an IBM user group to share software and promote interoperability.
> Among their results was a library of free open-source software.
> A major SHARE project was the SHARE Operating System (SOS), which
> was a free open-source OS for the IBM 709 and 7090 computers.
> So when anybody says that ontologies promote interoperability,
> we must ask two further questions: How? and Why?
> To answer them, we have to look at systems that interoperate
> without having an explicit ontology and compare them to systems
> that use an ontology. Then we have to ask what differences
> in approaches, methods, or kinds of problems have led to the
> successes and/or failures.
> I recently read an article about another technology that has,
> for many years, been proposed as the salvation of mankind:
> Fusion falters under soaring costs
> The following remark was significant:
> Professor Balibar explained: "The most difficult problem is
> the problem of materials. Some time ago I declared that fusion
> is like trying to put the Sun in a box - but we don't know
> how to make the box."
> Building a miniature sun on earth is a sexy project that many
> people want to work on. In comparison, building the box sounds
> mundane and boring. But without the box, we can't have the sun.
> Something similar is happening with ontology. Everyone wants to
> build a great new ontology. That is a sexy project in comparison
> to the mundane problems of building the boxes and plumbing that
> would make ontologies work in real world systems.
> Those mundane problems are critical to the success of any
> ontology project, and we can't ignore them.
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