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But then how do we account for
the diverse viewpoints going into the system from multiple users? We all
agree that each user has a unique ontology of her personal world. We know
that subjectivity gets squeezed into the tightest databases with the strictest
You can’t. And in fact the problem really is just how do you impose
sufficiently strict controls such that the range of meaning is sufficiently
small that sufficiently accurate communication is possible.
“Imposing controls” is the wrong
approach. It might work for extremely simple jobs like a standard cashier
quest check. But even there, imagine yourself at a table in a restaurant;
you want your burger done protein style, hold the relish, wrapped in lettuce,
without mayonnaise, with an extra salt packet. Can the store’s IT
designer predict what you, the customer, will order? Some of those
“strict controls” drive away customers. They also stifle
change and adaptability.
MW: That’s a non-sequitur. The problem here is flexibility
and expressiveness, not different viewpoints. If you cannot communicate
that this is what you want (because there is too much ambiguity) you will
not get what you want (except accidentally).
You must. As John Sowa is fond of saying, people play
MW: But computers don’t.
Those games are more complicated than we can decipher from signs
alone. So one enterprise level purpose of each subjective personal
ontology is to “correct” the personal viewpoint, projecting it back
into the enterprise ontology.
MW: This is essentially the process of agreeing the enterprise
ontology, or aligning with it.
But not at the focus of the employee; each
employee has her own ontology. Only part of her ontology aligns with the
enterprise ontology. If you have ever managed a staff of people, you
understand how diverse and inherently unmanageable people are. It takes
work spent learning new skills by you as the manager to get people to do what
the enterprise requires. And those skills require you to understand each
employee’s needs if you plan to work with her for more than one
transaction. Every job is negotiated, not rigidly specified, for most
forms of work. There are few assembly line processes with people pegged
into slots any more. The person with her own viewpoint is what you want
to empower, enable, leverage, and automate. The enterprise has to gain
during that process with each transaction, at least on the average.
So in my opinion, the focus of the employee
ontology ought to be personal, with projections onto organizational or group
ontologies that enable work flow.
MW: To me that is an argument that an
ontology should be extensible to take in new concepts, not that it is
good for people to have different independent ontologies.
But note that if you project the disjunction of all personal
ontologies to make up the enterprise ontology, you have to match common items
shared among personal ontologies.
MW: I don’t know anyone who would do it like that. Much
more likely is that a few people determine the enterprise ontology, and then
others are left with aligning their own viewpoint with it.
I certainly wouldn’t do it like that
either; I am using it above as a conceptual aid to get the idea across about
how the enterprise ontology and the employee ontology ought to be related.
And the “few people” you mentioned should include all
employees interacting with the network, IMHO. But employees who have to
“align their own viewpoint” by themselves are probably not
functioning at full performance levels.
MW: I think I have yet to meet anyone in a large organization who
is functioning at full performance levels. I don’t think this is anything
to do with ontology though.
For example, probably most or all normal English speakers think of
fluids in one way, solids in another and gases in a third. The English
language reflects the way we talk about the things belonging to these different
MW: One has to be very careful about this. Language includes
lots of old ways of thinking about things that are not accurate. Ontology is
about modeling how things are in the world, not how we talk about them.
I disagree because “how we talk about
things” is the process of communication that the enterprise ontology is
supposed to leverage in the first place, at least in my grand vision of
things. Rigid and fixed enterprise ontology will not do the job.
MW: Why do you insist that I am
advocating a rigid and fixed ontology. When did I say that?
Language is very flexible precisely because we
have evolved commonly understood ways of twisting and reforming language to fit
our newest needs.
By force fitting “the” ontology
onto the user, we perpetuate the errors of old technologies. Technology
has gotten so cheap, so plentiful and so prevalent that we can afford to tailor
our systems to the individuals now. The point is to leverage people, and
the enterprise gains from the rising tide of productivity.
MW: I can only say that my own experience is the opposite. I can
agree that each person having support for their own view might help them,
but the objective is to optimize the performance of the organization not the
So there is clearly a linguistic common ontology of objects and
classes that constitutes everyday usage.
MW: No there is not, because with everyday language you can
express any of the ontologies you might find. Words have such a variety of
usages, that it can be difficult to accurately determine the meaning of words
out o f context, and sometimes even in context.
I cordially disagree because the emphasis
should be placed on EVERYDAY OBJECTS, EVENTS and ACTIONS. For example,
the enterprise ontology should understand simple English rule descriptions
written in everyday documents in common language. It should also be able
to maintain a database of common events, objects, resources and people in the
enterprise. It should know about the properties of commonly shared
objects (meeting rooms, refrigerators, projectors, lunch options …).
If the firm is a law firm, it might understand customer accounts and
simple descriptions of the work done there. If the enterprise is a furniture
factory, it might understand framing, springs, fabric inventory, pattern
design, cutting, piecework, stitching techniques and so on.
MW: Well quite, but now you’re talking about the things in
the business, not the words.
That can be part of the enterprise ontology. But its part of
EVERY language competent ontology.
MW: I’ve no idea what that might be. As I said above,
ontology is about the things in the world, not how we talk about them.
We disagree primarily on that point.
Ontology, IMHO, is exactly how we talk about and use the objects, events
and actions of our everyday surroundings. Its purpose is to provide
scaffolding for building semantic knowledge into our everyday lives.
MW: Yes, but it is the things we want to talk about, not the
words about the things.
So the enterprise ontology also includes things specific to the
objects about which that enterprise is concerned.
Leading to the conclusion that the enterprise ontology will have to
be multilayered, scalloped like a 50’s hot rod into component ontologies
for each viewpoint and each group of viewpoints.
MW: Well yes you can do that (maybe), but at prohibitive expense
because of the interfaces between vewpoints, so I doubt if anyone will. This is
back to why a meeting of a French, Italian, German and Spanish people will
conduct business in English.
With the environment here in the US, we have
mainly the King’s English, with relatively little non English material in
most of our lives. We have already agreed on the human language. So the
problem here now is to make our systems understand it so we can get them to be
MW: Oh. I thought you had rather a
lot of Spanish speakers.
The task is to automate the six year old.
MW: Well that is certainly not what I am
interested in. I’d like to semi-automate the engineer.
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