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Re: [ontac-forum] Some thoughts on hub ontology and merging sources

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 18 Nov 2005 13:06:37 -0500
Message-id: <437E182D.3030700@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Rick,    (01)

That's a very important point:    (02)

RM> I think it's in the context of information flow that
 > will give us the new and different view we need here.    (03)

When two people (or programs) interoperate successfully,
the primary requirement is *not* that they have identical
world views on every detail.  The major constraint is
that they agree on just that subset of categories that
are relevant to the information flow between them.    (04)

Mathew West made an important point, which I modified
by changing the word "unfortunately" to "inevitably",
changing "several" to "untold numbers", and adding
the phrase "for the purpose at hand":    (05)

MW as modified by JS> [Inevitably], even with one universe
 > it is theoretically possible to come up with an infinite
 > number of ontologies - almost certainly none of them truly
 > correct, but possibly [untold numbers] of them being
 > accurate enough to be useful [for the purpose at hand].    (06)

The professor of industrial engineering George Box made
a related point in a pithy and widely quoted observation:    (07)

    All models are wrong; some models are useful.    (08)

A formal ontology is an axiomatization of a model of some
domain, which may be as large as the entire universe,
but more likely is a much smaller model of some domain of
interacting applications.  Furthermore, the information
that flows among any set of people (or programs) is usually
much smaller than the union of what all of them know.    (09)

Matthew also added the following point:    (010)

MW> Merging ontologies will only be possible where the
 > same choices have been made for these (and perhaps other)
 > things. Between ontologies that have made different
 > choices, the ontologies can be expected to differ in
 > their account of the same real world phenomena in a
 > way that cannot be simply merged.    (011)

That may be true, but we should ask the next question:
If we want Program A to interoperate with Program B, why
should we merge every aspect of the ontology that was used
by the developers of Program A with every aspect of the
ontology used by the developers of Program B?    (012)

One term I like is "task-oriented interoperability":  if
you try to merge two ontologies, you have to look at the
*union* of all the categories in both.  But if you want
to enable two programs to interoperate, you only need
to look at the subsets that are relevant to the task.    (013)

Merging two small ontologies is much, much easier.  And
more importantly, if you are only looking at a specific
task, it is very likely that the subsets appropriate to
the task will have similar perspectives.    (014)

Recommendation:  Shift attention from the unsolvable problem
of building, merging, and coordinating global world views to
the task of developing an open-ended collection of modules
that can be selected, assembled, and tailored for particular
tasks or collections of tasks.    (015)

John Sowa    (016)

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