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Re: [ontolog-forum] History of AI and Commercial Data Processing

To: edbark@xxxxxxxx, "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 27 Jun 2009 00:26:20 -0400
Message-id: <4A459F6C.30004@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Ed,    (01)

EB> We have a way of talking past one another.    (02)

Actually, I don't think we disagree that much.  Many of the
disagreements arise from different choices of terminology.
I'll just respond to a few of the points.    (03)

EB> (I have twice been contracted to tell an organization what
 > its in-house experts already knew, simply because their
 > management didn't believe them without confirmation from
 > some respected source.  I dare say many senior AI folk have
 > had similar bitter experiences.)    (04)

Yes, I've been on both sides of that nonsense.  That is a very
stupid and infuriating attitude adopted by pointy haired bosses
who don't understand the situation and refuse to admit that
their employees understand it better than they do.    (05)

 > 1) LISP is a programming language used by AI folk.  There is no
 > intrinsic AI quality to LISP, unless you think "metalevel programming"
 > (i.e., S-expressions) somehow is.    (06)

I agree, but I'd like to add some qualification:    (07)

LISP is the result of addressing problems that are far more complex
than the ones for which COBOL and FORTRAN were well adapted.  Without
AI research, LISP would not have been invented, but by the mid 1990s,
the state of the art had progressed to where LISP in C clothing
(i.e., Java) became a very successful language.    (08)

 > 2) The number of commercial applications written in LISP in the last
 > 45 years is very small, primarily because LISP implementations were so
 > self-contained that getting them to read commercial data from things
 > like tapes and databases did not become common for 20 years.    (09)

I agree, but the point of my note about history was to explain some
of the circumstances that isolated the AI community from the mainstream
of commercial applications.  In the 1990s, when everybody was using
PCs, Java adopted so much of LISP, that many AI groups adopted Java
for writing commercial applications.  (And others translated their
LISP to C for better performance.)    (010)

 > Well, I doubt that most scientists think what they do is a recipe
 > for creating products of any kind.    (011)

That is probably true.  But many of the best scientists from ancient
times to the present have done much of their best work as a result
of close experience with applications.  For mathematicians, that
connection was with experimental physics -- e.g., Descartes, Newton,
Leibniz, Laplace, Gauss, Euler, Lagrange, Hamilton, etc.  But much
of it was "work for hire" by Archimedes (e.g., the Eureka effect
in the bathtub) up to von Neumann and many others.  Even Kepler
made his living by writing astrological charts for the wealthy
(but I doubt that helped him discover the elliptical orbits).    (012)

 > I never heard what the practical significance of solving quintic
 > equations was, or why anyone cared about Fermat's Last Theorem    (013)

Mathematicians always like to fill in gaps and generalize their
theories, and that was the motivation for those examples.  But
it is certainly true that the challenge of solving problems and
admiring the elegance of the solution is a strong motivator.
Chess, for example, is a branch of pure mathematics that is
driven by elegance, beauty, and the opportunity for clobbering
the other guy without getting arrested.    (014)

 > And I have no idea what real-world problems inspired Frege
 > and Russell, if any.    (015)

Comparing Frege and Russell to their contemporaries Peirce and
Whitehead is one of my favorite exercises.  Neither one had any
practical experience of applying mathematics.  Frege discovered
the first version of predicate calculus in a notation that nobody,
not even his best pupil Rudolf Carnap, ever used.    (016)

Peirce had a strong background in chemistry and physics, and he
worked for 30 years at the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey.
He invented several different notations for logic, including
the algebraic notation that Peano adopted for the modern
systems of predicate calculus.    (017)

Whitehead had a very strong background in physics, and he taught
many years of applied math/theoretical physics.  The notation of
the Principia was adopted without change from Peano, and most of
the innovations in notation in the later volumes were by Whitehead.    (018)

As for philosophy, I blame Frege, Russell, and Carnap for the
disasters of 20th-century analytic philosophy, many of which
were inherited by the so-called mainstream of classical AI.
I elaborated those points in the following paper:    (019)

    Signs, Processes, and Language Games    (020)

 > Are there hundreds of organizations doing what you are doing?
 > Is your technology being rapidly proliferated as we speak?
 > If so, then what you are saying is not that the 2007 study was
 > wrong, but that that situation will now change very rapidly.
 > Is that your point?    (021)

Yes, I believe that the technology for extracting information
from texts in an automated or semi-automated way is rapidly
developing.  I believe that our little company has some leading
edge products, and we're trying to stay ahead of the pack.    (022)

In any case, I think the pack is not very far behind.  When
the products start coming out, they will make hand-written
ontologies like Cyc as obsolete as tables of sines and cosines.    (023)

John    (024)

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