Just for clarity, in case anyone was interested in this idea.
The impetus behind a special issue devoted to reviewing the field is to answer the following three questions:
Who are we?
What do we think?
What have we done?
Where we refers to various research groups distributed across the globe. Quick synopsis of rationale:
Each year, there are X many new graduates, yet there is no centralized place to figure out what the outstanding issues in ontology are, who's working on it, and what they believe.
Incidentally, this complements the "Ontologists of the Future" effort quite well. While I believe that pretty much every field would benefit from this type of review every 5/10 years, it makes a lot of sense for something like ontology to be one of the first who actually does it.
I would further imagine that such an exercise would identify 3-6 dominant schools of thought regarding the best strategies for developing ontologies. I received my MASc this past March, and was considering immediately doing a PhD, but in doing research on the various labs in the field, it was really difficult to get a sense of who's doing what. In academia, we're distributed in various departments and disciplines (Engineering in Toronto, Philosophy in Buffalo, Medicine in Stanford, Machine Learning in Baltimore, dedicated in Trento) - again this has also been noted in the Ontologists of the Future effort.
The initial idea I proposed was:
The basic idea is that in any field, it would be very useful to have a summary of all the progress made over the past X number of years. As far as I know, such a thing doesn't exist. However, the 5 year anniversary of Applied Ontology will be next year, coinciding with FOIS, and I think it would be wonderful to start this tradition - at least within the ontology community.
One major component might be to elicit submissions from every research group in the field (perhaps 250 words max), summarizing the state of their current research. Another essential ingredient would be to have three (or more) authors (ideally represent the contrasting approaches in the field), to review the overall progress given their specializations / perspectives. Each article would strive to identify the major paradigms in the field as well as who has done what to address the major problems.
Lastly, we might want to organize such a special issue into "Current Theoretical Issues" "Current Applications" and possibly "Current Tools / Languages" - having articles or brief notes that discuss each, and organized those short summary submissions noted above according to these categories.
In any event, the above are preliminary suggestions for how the "field review" might look like. Let me know what you think. I would be able to help however i can :D.
Any ideas / feedback would be welcome.
On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 5:11 PM, Ali Hashemi <ali.hashemi+ontolog@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Thanks for this email.
A couple of points here, comments below.
On Wed, Jan 27, 2010 at 4:28 PM, Patrick Cassidy <pat@xxxxxxxxx>
[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,
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