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Re: [ontolog-forum] Fw: Context in a sentence

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Ali Hashemi <ali.hashemi+ontolog@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 27 Jan 2010 17:11:17 -0500
Message-id: <5ab1dc971001271411lb359592pfdeb1a86f46f9613@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Dear Patrick,

Thanks for this email.

A couple of points here, comments below.

On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 4:28 PM, Patrick Cassidy <pat@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:

[PC] I never said that, and I don’t believe it either.  But regardless of how one chooses to talk about the world, any two communicating agents must talk about it **in the same language**, or else fail to communicate accurately


[PC] Not necessarily, though see the next paragraph.  I am sure that different people do have different fundamental assumptions and different beliefs, and use words in different ways, and all of that creates a great risk of faulty communication, as one can observe in many situations such as this forum.  In fact, it is probably impossible to people to have **exactly** the same internal states, though with effort we can get close enough to each other for communication accurate enough for most practical purposes (a least when they are not trying to score debating points).   But computers **can** have identical sets of theories (the computer version of beliefs), since the computer owners are in complete control and only have to choose to use the same set of theories in order to communicate accurately.  My point was that since we do have control over our computers’ theories, we can get them to communicate accurately by using the same sets of theories.  That doesn’t mean that there is only **one** true set of theories, it does mean that any group that agrees that **some** particular set of theories is adequate to express what they want their computers to communicate can use that set to enable accurate computer communication.  If there are some who feel that the theories are not adequate for their purposes, they can choose not to communicate accurately with the community that does use the common language – or make some adjustments to get an approximate interpretation – or better yet, try  to collaborate with the others to find some set of theories that includes their needs as well.   But once there is **some** community that uses a common foundation ontology as the basis for accurate computer communication among useful programs, it is likely that one such foundation ontology will be the most commonly used, and therefore will provide the greatest audience.  If a different foundation ontology is used in some specialized community, it can become the preferred basis for communication there, but that community will then not communicate accurately with the other, larger audience.  I expect that one common foundation ontology will eventually dominate the computer communication media for the same reason that English dominates in international scientific conferences – it gives the greatest value per unit effort expended.  That situation may not last forever – English may be replaced by, say Chinese . . .  that depends on unpredictable factors.

I'm very glad you acknowledge that it is probably impossible for people to have exactly the same internal states, let alone descriptions of what is. As you note in the first comment above, all that is really required for two agents to communicate is to agree on what they're communicating about. 

However, I'm not sure I accept your analogy that English == Common Theory. For me the analogy is more along the lines of English == Common Logic or RDF or OWL2 and the descriptions _using_ English are the actual ontologies we're speaking of - i.e. the words used in English, say the vocabulary V == ontology O. To me this is a more apt analogy.

The solution your post above seems to suggest is actually very similar to the interlingua ontology idea developed in the late 90's, though perhaps that idea was too soon given the state of ontology development. It has since been significantly updated, altered and revived in the form of the OOR or COLORE projects.

As you have noted, the way for two agents to communicate effectively is via determining where they agree and disagree on their theory (the application of English to describe a particular domain / system etc.)

Moreover, as you note below, the number of primitives seems to taper much like y = log (x). However, this doesn't mean that those set of primitives are consistent with one another. And there's the rub.

As it stands we have many people who are working to develop this interlingua; we are in effect, defacto developing exactly the set of primitives you speak of, except in a not very coordinated manner and without an overarching framework. While this lack of cohesion introduces some problems, it also means work can progress without waiting for consensus.

Coincidentally, tools are developed, released and implemented to address exactly those problems that arise from said lack of cohesion - notably efforts in semantic mappings.

Thus, while we might not have all agreed on the common set of primitives, we're slowly understanding where my primitives agree with yours and where they disagree and in what ways. Unsurprisingly, this is also enabling my ontology to be able to communicate effectively with your ontology in much the way you described above.

Alas, this is slow going, and it can sometimes be frustrating that there is no overarching cohesion, but then we have wonderful communities like ontolog who are linking people together and providing a platform such as the OOR to collate, collect and hopefully, ultimately connect all these different primitives.

The above said, to me, a better allocation of resources, instead of a trying to achieve broad consensus from the get go, would be to analyze what currently exist, figure out what the primitives being used might be, and figure out the links, kinks and winks between them - i.e. it might be more useful to try to derive cohesion from these disparate efforts by digging in and fleshing things out. An idea i'd floated before to Nicola Guarino and Michael Gruninger, but I unfortunately haven't pursued with the requisite vigor - is that I would love to see an issue of an ontology journal, say Applied Ontology, devoted to cataloging who is doing what, what the major perspectives in ontology are, and what the major contributions from various research groups across the world are. Instead of a review paper, a review _journal_ of where we are, who we are and what we've done. I think such an effort would go much further in fostering the requisite cohesion than trying to derive consensus first.

So, while I believe your proposal is valuable, I'm not sure it'll be able to attract the requisite momentum; not to mention, there seems to be a lot of work being currently done which already parallels what you envision.

All the best,


From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of sean barker
Sent: Tuesday, January 26, 2010 3:12 PM
To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
Cc: "Patrick Cassidy [pat@xxxxxxxxx]"@mccarthy.cim3.com
Subject: [ontolog-forum] Fw: Context in a sentence





    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 A.


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 "thing".


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 ontologies.


Sean Barker



From: ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx [mailto:ontolog-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of Patrick Cassidy
Sent: 26 January 2010 05:52
To: '[ontolog-forum] '
Subject: Re: [ontolog-forum] Context in a sentence

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>> 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.


I 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 implement.


As 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 freely.


John 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 information.


The 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 it.


So, 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?





Patrick Cassidy



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