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   Re: local, global (was various ontology, RDF, topic maps)

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  • From: "Simon St.Laurent" <simonstl@simonstl.com>
  • To: xml-dev@lists.xml.org
  • Date: Wed, 20 Dec 2000 12:22:28 -0500

At 11:27 AM 12/20/00 -0500, Jonathan Borden wrote:
>Simon St.Laurent wrote:
>> In all of this recent talk of creating ontologies, using schemas for
>> constraints, and creating large-scale distributed networks of commonly
>> understood information, I feel like we're seeing the usual formula of
>> 'achieve agreement, implement everything according to that agreement,
>> enjoy paradise'.
>    This has been the problem of structured medical terminology for the past
>3 decades and today we have no universal agreement about and less structure
>in medical records. And then the government steps in and says "We aren't
>requiring you to do it this way but if you don't you won't get paid." That
>is the best way I know of achieving consensus. My proposition is, simply
>put, that while we are cleaning up the medical claims procedures, we seize
>the opportunity to fix the information system.

I'm aware that this is what _is_ happening, but are you really convinced
that it's a good idea to enforce 'universal agreement' throughout the
process?  I'm not sure ontology by fiat is blessed with any particular
exemption that makes it a better idea overall.  Is 'seizing the opportunity
to fix the information system' an even larger project than dealing with
HIPAA itself?  I suspect that interchange formats are a difficult enough
problem by themselves - they generally seem to be.

>    Again the principle of reification, or in plain English the ability to
>make assertions regarding the classifications allows us to place these
>ontologies into "contexts" or "spaces". One's regard for a particular
>ontology is then applied to its context. As an individual, I can use only
>those ontologies in a particular "context" and I can apply a belief value
>(i.e. create a Bayesian network) to individual statements or entire
>ontologies as I choose.

That makes it sound wonderfully simple, but I don't think we're anywhere
near the point where such 'reification' is the answer.  "As an individual"
is a concept which has almost no respect in the world of software
development and systems integration, I fear, and is a privilege currently
available only to systems developers, not system users.  

> [...much good technical which does nothing to ease my concerns...]
>Again, think of RDF as an assembly language for semantic reasoning, but
>realize that real benefits won't be achieved until we get high level
>languages and tools.

I'd like to see higher-level languages and tools which make these concepts
available to developers other than ontology specialists, but I have serious
doubts about 'real benefits' which rely on large-scale agreements, RDF or not.

Simon St.Laurent
XML Elements of Style / XML: A Primer, 2nd Ed.
XHTML: Migrating Toward XML
http://www.simonstl.com - XML essays and books


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