I suspect that the claim "we need a common
foundational ontology" is exactly equivalent to David's quotation "(1) the entire meaning of a message
is self-contained in said message", since
if we have a common foundational ontology we should be able to make statements
in the ontology that are true irrespective of context.
I would interpret C.S.Peirce's definition as saying that
communication happens when an agent sends symbol A and it invokes a knowledge
based procedure leading to symbol B in a second agent, and both A and B refer to
the same (concept) C.
Caveat - I do not claim that this is Peirce's interpretation,
or even that he would agree with it, but its my B to his
The point being is that context (what ever that is) defines
the inference task in which A is used to invoke B. Even on the Semantic Web, the
context that it is the semantic web defines particular processing protocols
which invoke a system that understands OWL or RDF rather than one that only
understands HTML or even EDIFACT.
However, more broadly, I would reject the idea that there is
only one way to talk about the world. In this context, I would say there are in
fact two distinct types of ontolology, those that talk about the world, and
those that model the world, and that these two views of ontology are
incompatible. (A foundation ontology is a model of the world). Perhaps,
following Protégé, we could distinguish them by having as TOP "word" and
This is not to say that I don't think common ontologies are a
bad idea - they are essential for engineered applications - or rather,
applications engineered to match a particular human or business context.
However, they are not a universal panacea simply because different contexts will
be understood through different ontologies.
One might propose that, because we are all the same type of
creature (human) that we must therefore all use the same mechanisms for thought,
and this must lead to the same foundational concepts. This would imply firstly,
that the variation in humans is too small to allow for different mechanisms for
thought, and secondly, that the mechanisms of thought are entirely conditioned
by our genetic inheritance and are not affected by environment. Both questions
should be scientifically verifiable, and indeed may already have been
determined, however, this is not my area of expertise, although I would strongly
suspect both hypotheses to be false.
So, no context free language, no common foundational
*** WARNING ***
This message has originated outside your organisation,
either from an external partner or the Global Internet.
Keep this in mind if you answer this message.
I want something--MT? Ontology support?--that can read Fortran,
Jovial, COBOL. Java, PHP, Ruby, C, etc. (oops... that's a computer language)
documents & make (more) sense out of said documents. These are textual
artifacts (therefore "documents"?) which may or may not be written by humans,
they're decidedly NOT edited for readability, and they are really not intended
for human consumption.
believe that current ontology technology, or extensions of it (to include
procedural attachments) has the technical capability to do such things.
But non-trivial applications will be quite labor-intensive to
I see it, ontology technology is still in its infancy ? or perhaps still
embryonic. I have had great difficulty finding any publicly
inspectable (open source) applications that go much beyond an advanced version
of database information retrieval ? adding in a little logical inference, but
not using that inference to do anything conspicuously more impressive than RDB?s
themselves. CYC suggests it has built applications that do that, but we do
not have them available for public testing ? and much of CYC is still
proprietary, a big turn-off for those who need a language that can be used
Sowa has told us that he uses a combination of techniques to solve knotty
problems efficiently. I believe that is what will be very effective
in general, but for that to work outside the confines of a single group ? i.e.
to enable multiple separately developed agents to cooperate in solving a
problem- they will also need a common language to accurately communicate
problem, as I perceive it is that, although up to now there has been great
progress in understanding the science (mathematical properties) of inference ?
for which we can be grateful to the mathematicians and logicians -
understanding inference only provides a **grammar** and a minimal
basic **semantics** for a language that computers can understand. What we
have very little agreement on is the **vocabulary**, without which there is no
useful language. For computers to properly interpret each other?s data, it
is necessary to have a common vocabulary ? or vocabularies that can be
**accurately** translated. Such a translation mechanism is possible
if a common foundation ontology were adopted, which would have representations
of all the fundamental concepts necessary to logically describe the domain
concepts of the ontologies in programs that need to communicate
data. It is a measure of the pre-scientific nature of the field that there
is actually even disagreement about the need for a common foundation
ontology. To me it is blindingly obvious ? one cannot communicate without
a common language (including vocabulary); there are no exceptions. But
most efforts at interoperability among separately developed ontologies currently
focus on developing mappings in some automated manner ? which any inspection
immediately reveals cannot be done with enough accuracy to allow machines to
make mission-critical decisions based on such inaccurate mappings.
Accurate mappings are possible via a common foundation ontology. But for
reasons that I believe are not based on relevant technical considerations, there
is little enthusiasm for developing such an ontology at present. Past
efforts have failed, because they depended on voluntary commitment of a great
deal of time from participants in order to find common ground among a large
enough user community. What will work is if a large developing community
is **paid** to build and test a common foundation ontology and demonstrate its
capability for broad general semantic interoperability. I am certain it
will happen sometime that such an ontology will be developed, because the need
for it and benefits of it are so compelling. The only question for me is
how much time and money will be wasted before such a widely used foundation
ontology is developed and tested in multiple applications ? and who will pay for
I believe that current ontology technology provides the basis to tackle the
problems you cite, but I don?t know of any off-the-shelf programs that can do
that now. Perhaps someone has developed one?