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Excellent synopsis of the Semantic Web’s weakness

Posted by direwolff on November 13, 2006

While I’m subscribed to Nova Spivack’s blog, I don’t often get to keep up with it as much as I would like, and have missed many of his recent postings about the Semantic Web. It wasn’t until my rant on John Markoff’s article last night, that I decided to get caught up with Nova’s writings, as I know he’s a bright guy on these matters, so he must be seeing something in the Semantic Web to keep his interest.

Well, what was most refreshing about his blog is seeing one of Nova’s posts titled The Ontology Integration Problem, that accurately articulates the problems with the Semantic Web that he and his team are facing. I say refreshing because at least it’s clear that Nova is taking a realistic view of the Semantic Web’s strengths and weaknesses in whatever he is planning to deliver with Radar Networks. I have been working with the team that developed Readware, which takes a very different approach with their technology to solving similar issues to the Semantic Web’s focus, but during that time they quickly identified this as one of the significant stumbling blocks that the Semantic Web would face that Readware does not and will not. In a nutshell here’s the paragraph from Nova’s post that captures it best:

The dream of the Semantic Web vision is that someday there will be thousands or millions of ontologies around the web, and millions of instances of them. And these will all somehow be integrated automagically, or at least if they aren’t integrated on the semantic level, then there will be magic software that embodies that integration. In any case, the hope is that someday intelligent agents will be able to freely and seamlessly roam around harvesting this data, squishing it together into knowledgebases, and reasoning across them. But neither harvesting, nor squishing, nor reasoning can really take place without some level of semantic integration of the underlying ontologies. Yet, how will all these disparate ontologies be connected? Unless mappings are created between them, instead of a Semantic Web, we’ll just have millions of little semantic silos. Maybe some company will succed in making the biggest silo and that will be “the” semantic web to most people. That might be the best solution in fact, but I’m not sure that is really what Tim Berners-Lee had in mind! If that is not the solution that the semantic web community wants, then the integration issue needs to be solved sooner rather than later. The longer we wait to solve this, the harder it will get to solve it later on, because the number of ontologies is increasing with time.

His points here have been echoed my many other folks I know who have also undertaken the application of the Semantic Web’s principles to address broad problems. They all eventually run into the same challenge that Nova and his team at Radar Networks have. What’s missing is that Semantic Web has no foundational ontology from which to relate these disparate siloed ontologies to each other. If they do figure out a solution to this, it will most likely be a patchwork or an effort dominated by committees making arbitrary decisions on these matters.

This problem has actually been solved but it requires a different way of thinking about it as well as the need for a unification theory that I believe the team behind Readware has figured out, but required a very different way of thinking to reach the solution, not to mention an unusual combination of skills. The solution is rooted in some things that Warren Weaver once said which I refer to in a previous post. Readware has a working system demonstrating this and we will soon deploy applications that leverage the use of this technology to address the problems that Nova refers to above in a robust and scalable manner.

The next few months should be a lot of fun all around in this space.

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