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Re: [ontology-summit] Ontology Framework Draft Statement for theOntology

To: "Ontology Summit 2007 Forum" <ontology-summit@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: "Wilmering, Timothy J" <timothy.j.wilmering@xxxxxxxxxx>, david.h.jones@xxxxxxxxxx, Jun.Yuan@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx, William.R.Murray@xxxxxxxxxx
From: "Uschold, Michael F" <michael.f.uschold@xxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 19 Apr 2007 16:16:04 -0700
Message-id: <4301AFA5A72736428DA388B73676A3810357796F@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Overall I like the draft statement.  Two minor things and a more important one.
  • I think tha the 'level of structure' dimension should be called 'degree of structure'. What does level mean?
  • Also, would you include Topic Maps in the ontologies, or is it a near miss?
Here is a more fundamental question regarding the following sentence in the context of defining an ontology as a specification of a conceptualization.
This is the conventional sense of specification in computer science, analogous to the terms requirements specification, database specification, and program specification.  In the context of knowledge representation in particular, an ontology specifies the conceptual primitives for representing a domain, in the same way that a database schema specifies the relations used in a database, and a programming language provides the primitives used in an implemented algorithm.
There is a problem with this analogy.
In CS, a requirements specification is a specification for a software application that you want to build. Before you build it, you want specify what the requirements are so you build the right application.  One does the following:
1. think hard about what you need, say for a software application that you wish to build.
2. you write down your thoughts, typicaly using a variety of informal notations, sometimes the notations are formal. This results in a specification for the software application.
3. you take the specification as a starting point for encoding an implementation of the software application that meets the specification.
If this analogy worked, we would have the following:
An ontology is a specification of a conceptualization that you want to build. Before you build it, you want to specify what the requirements are so that you build the right conceptualization. One does the following:
1. think hard about what you need for your conceptualization
2. write down your thoughts, using a variety of informal or formal notations  This results in a specification of the conceptualization.
3. you take the specification as a starting point for encoding an implementation of the conceptualization that meets the specification.
This just makes no sense.  It is using the word  specification in a VERY DIFFERENT, and possibly incorrect way.
I just realized right now why I always had an uneasy feeling about the classic definition of an ontology as a "specification of a conceptualization".  Usually you specify what your want to build, but we are not building a conceptualization.
It is the other way around. You have the conceptualization first, and then you carefully and clearly document what that conceptualization is, and THAT is the formal ontology. 
So an ontology is not a "specification of an conceptualization" at all, rather, it is a formal way of expressing a conceptualization.
I leave it as an exercise to the reader to see how the analogies work for: database specification and program specification. Come to think of it, maybe the example I use was mixed up, I might have been talking about program specification.

Michael Uschold
M&CT, Phantom Works
425 373-2845

COOL TIP: to skip the phone menu tree and get a human on the phone, go to: http://gethuman.com/tips.html


From: Obrst, Leo J. [mailto:lobrst@xxxxxxxxx]
Sent: Thursday, April 19, 2007 3:18 PM
To: Ontology Summit 2007 Forum
Subject: [ontology-summit] Ontology Framework Draft Statement for theOntology Summit

Here is our draft statement about the Ontology Framework. We invite you to consider and discuss this -- now and in next week's sessions. We intend this to be an inclusive characterization of what an ontology is. Inclusive: meaning that we invite you to consider where you and your community is with respect to these dimensions. If you have concerns or issues, restatements or elaborations, please let us know now and next week. This will shortly be posted on the Framework Wiki page: http://ontolog.cim3.net/cgi-bin/wiki.pl?OntologySummit2007_FrameworksForConsideration.
Thanks much,
Tom Gruber, Michael Gruninger, Pat Hayes, Deborah McGuinness, Leo Obrst
Dr. Leo Obrst       The MITRE Corporation, Information Semantics
lobrst@xxxxxxxxx    Center for Innovative Computing & Informatics
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