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Re: [ontolog-forum] Foundation ontology, CYC, and Mapping

To: "[ontolog-forum]" <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 30 Jan 2010 22:38:41 -0500
Message-id: <4B64FB41.1020600@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Pat and Ali,    (01)

Some of our disagreements result from different views about the
nature of natural languages and the source of the multiple word
senses.  People used to think that multiple word senses were
a flaw in NLs and that the cure was to legislate a single word
sense or a small number of fixed senses for each word.    (02)

Peirce observed that "symbols grow" and that a person who interprets
a word derives a meaning that is *rarely* identical to the meaning
of the speaker or author.  In fact, the interpreter can sometimes
derive a meaning that is richer or more detailed than the author
had intended.  That is called "reading between the lines".    (03)

The inevitable changes in the world are the most common source
of multiple meanings and shifts in meaning.  A definition of
'automobile' in 1910, for example, would be very different from
a definition in 1960 and much more different in 2010.    (04)

In computer systems, where precise definitions are critical,
the meanings of words change even more rapidly.  Terms like
'file', 'datatype', 'operating system', 'display', 'browser',
'CPU', 'interrupt', 'compiler', 'interpreter', or 'database'
change with each vendor, each implementer, each release of
a new version, and even each patch to a current version.    (05)

In linguistics, Alan Cruse coined the term 'microsense' for the
subtle changes in word meaning with every new application (or
language game, in Wittgenstein's terms).  For the Semantic Web,
some people hoped that assigning a unique identifier to each word
sense would magically stop meanings from changing.  But that hope
is incredibly naive.    (06)

You can put any definition you choose at the end of a URI, but
it won't guarantee that the people who annotate their web pages
will use that definition.  In fact, it won't insure that people
will read it -- or understand it even if they read it.  And it
won't stop programmers from changing the semantics of their
programs when they fix bugs or make updates.    (07)

Some comments:    (08)

PC> Cyc is (1) mostly proprietary, and a public language is essential
> (2) no effort by a single group can demonstrate interoperability
> among independent development groups.    (09)

You said that many times, and I always make the same response:    (010)

  1. Doug Lenat & Co. have already released a large part of Cyc
     to the OpenCyc project.    (011)

  2. They need funding to continue their R & D.    (012)

  3. For a small fraction of the $30 million you're requesting, I'm sure
     that they would agree to release a very large amount of their
     ontology to OpenCyc and make it freely available.    (013)

  4. There is already a large community that is familiar with Cyc,
     people can begin using OpenCyc immediately, and they can upgrade
     to full Cyc as soon as it would be released.    (014)

I am definitely *not* convinced that Cyc is the ideal ontology that
the world needs.  But the alternatives are much less convincing, they
would cost more and take longer to develop, and nobody would have
any experience in using them.    (015)

PC> A related question that John has raised in the past is, if the CYC
> approach is technically adequate to support effective AI applications,
> why do we not see such applications?  If we assume that even the
> proprietary applications that CYC has built (not available for public
> inspection) are also not particularly impressive, there are possible
> reasons other than that the approach itself is flawed.    (016)

I strongly agree with that statement.  But I have little confidence
that any new ontology would be much better.    (017)

PC> I not only haven't seen anything from CYC that is public and
> impressive, I haven't seen anything from anyone else that is public
> and impressive that uses ontology to do things not easily done by
> other techniques (and there are *many* ontologies around).    (018)

I strongly agree with that statement.    (019)

PC> As for whether CYC has "failed", they are currently getting most
> of their revenue from commercial projects.    (020)

I agree.  Back in 1991, I suggested to Doug that he should devote
more effort to commercial applications.  But his response then was
that he didn't want to dilute his research by putting any effort
into applications.    (021)

I replied that if he spent some percentage (say 20%) of his resources
on commercial applications, the revenue could support much, if not
all of the research.  But he didn't want to work on applications.    (022)

However, the research funds have now dried up, and his only chance
of survival is to do what I believe he should have done many years
ago:  implement applications that can bring in some revenue.    (023)

PC> I have created definitions for 600+ words not in the Longman DV,
> and those definitions with their trace back to the LDV can be
> found at...    (024)

Those are definitions in English, which are comparable to the glosses
on WordNet, which has over a hundred times more terms together with
machine readable information that has proved to be very useful.  If
you think Longman's has anything to contribute, I suggest that you
collaborate with the WordNet group to improve it.  That would cost
much less than $30 million, and it would immediately benefit the
large community of WordnNet users.    (025)

PC> I have in the past suggested that if anyone doubts the adequacy
> of the Longman vocabulary to properly define (in English) any terms
> of interest, they should prepare what they consider to be a proper
> definition of some term, and I will try to demonstrate how the
> words of that definition can themselves be grounded recursively
> in the LDV.    (026)

Those 600 definitions in your file aren't sufficiently precise
to do machine reasoning.  Unless you can write definitions at the
level of precision and detail of Cyc, they can't be used in
a computer system.  And if you want to write at that level of
precision, I think you should start with Cyc.    (027)

PC> From past experience, I feel it likely that anything I choose
> would be dismissed as not convincing.    (028)

I agree.  Please note the opening comments of this note.  They
apply equally well to Cyc, WordNet, and every other proposed
formal ontology.  I have just as many (but slightly different)
doubts about them as I have about your proposals.    (029)

In summary, those points imply that *every* attempt to define
a fixed, frozen ontology is doomed.  That doesn't mean that
work on Cyc, SUMO, Dolce, BFO, etc., has been wasted.  But
it does imply that work can only be salvaged by making it
part of a more dynamic ontology along the following lines:    (030)

    A Dynamic Theory of Ontology    (031)

As I said to Ali, I believe that his approach is compatible
with the lattice, and it could be combined with it.  But no
fixed ontology would be suitable (except as part of a larger
open-ended collection).    (032)

John    (033)

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