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[ontolog-forum] Artificial Intelligence, Ontology and Epistemology

To: ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
From: joel luis carbonera <joelcarbonera@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 17 Aug 2011 15:58:53 -0300
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In the area of artificial intelligence, we are interested in developing systems capable of exhibiting intelligent behavior. Some approaches to AI, especially the most related to the symbolic paradigm, assume that the knowledge about the world is a key aspect of the system to be able to do this. These approaches usually take a stance "representationalist" that there is an external world, a priori, to be represented internally using symbols. For these systems, the world is what can be represented symbolically in them.

Working in this context of AI, I raised several questions, which to me are intuitively related. But I still cannot verbalize this relationship explicitly. I'll list a few...

I always had doubts about the status of the relationship between ontology and epistemology in conceptual modeling and especially in AI. I found some articles, like those of Roberto Poli, that explore the relationship between these two areas:

"Framing ontology"

"The Interplay Between Ontology as Categorial Analysis and Ontology as Technology"

In some sections, Poli said that ontology deals with "objects", while epistemology deals with "concepts". What do you think of this?

In foundational ontology, as the UFO, which deal with universals and particulars. Universals can be viewed as "objects" categorized by these ontologies?

Guarino also makes some statements about these issues, in his article: "Formal Ontology, Conceptual Analysis and Knowledge Representation". Then, I highlight an excerpt:

"Epistemology can be defined as “the field of philosophy which deals with the nature and sources of knowledge” [Nutter 1987]. The usual logistic interpretation is that knowledge consists of propositions, whose formal structure is the source of new knowledge. The inferential aspect seems to be essential to epistemology (at least for what concerns the sense that this term assumes in AI): the study of the “nature” of knowledge is limited to its superficial meaning (i.e., the form), since it is mainly motivated by the study of the inference process.

Ontology, on the other side, can be seen as the study of the organisation and the nature of the world independently of the form of our knowledge about it. Formal ontology has been recently defined as “the systematic, formal, axiomatic development of the logic of all forms and modes of being” [Cocchiarella 1991]. Although the genuine interpretation of the term "formal ontology" is still a matter of debate [Poli 1994], this definition is in our opinion particularly pregnant, as it takes into account both the meanings of the adjective "formal": on one side, this is synonymous of "rigorous", while on the other side it means "related to the forms of being". Therefore, what formal ontology is concerned in is not so much the bare existency of certain individuals, but rather the rigorous description of their forms. In practice, formal ontology can be intended as the theory of a priori distinctions:
• among the entities of the world (physical objects, events, regions, quantities of matter...);
• among the meta-level categories used to model the world (concepts, properties, qualities, states, roles, parts...)."

The Guarino's statement raises three issues on which I had been thinking. Two of them concern the relationship between ontologies, epistemology and AI, and one that is a philosophical question.

1-I am starting to work with ontologies. But by the definitions of ontology and the way they are presented in the literature, I suspected that the inferences are not subject of ontology. I'm working with expert systems in the field of Geology. In this expert system, from the description of the visual features of the rocks (described in terms of a domain ontology), one can generate interpretations about the physical processes that created this rock. This relationship between the visual characteristics of the rock and the physical processes seems a matter of epistemology. Am I correct? Can someone help me clarify this relationship?

2-How the ontology and epistemology are related in this case? Even though this relationship (between rocks and processes) is empirical, it uses the domain ontology. These inferences (occurring in the mind of an expert), seem to be a matter of epistemology. The inference seems to involve a visual comparison between the expert's knowledge (a pattern, perhaps represented in an inference rule) and what she/he sees. But ontology seems to play a structural role here. Without ontology, we would not have rock and process concepts. Am I correct? What do you think?

3-In the ontology, as philosophical activity, the ontology is an outcome of a top-down process, a bottom-up process or an interplay between both? It presupposes a relationship with the sensible world, or we are working with "a priori" contents? We perceive objects without first conceptualize them (turn them into a category in an ontology)? This question seems to be related to the philosophy of Kant. In ontology, what's more, my mind or the world? What do you think?


PS: My English is not very good, unhappily.

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