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Re: [ontac-forum] Future directions for ontologies and terminologies

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: guarino@xxxxxxxxxx, CG <cg@xxxxxxxxxx>
From: Chris Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Wed, 28 Dec 2005 10:45:05 -0600
Message-id: <20051228164505.GG17084@xxxxxxxx>
On Tue, Dec 27, 2005 at 12:12:35PM -0500, John Sowa wrote:
> ...
> The SUO work over the past five years has been interesting, and we all
> learned a lot.  But the most important thing we learned is that
> assuming a fixed and frozen set of upper-level axioms does not promote
> interoperability.  Instead, the axioms introduce irrelevant
> contradictions that are a major barrier to communication and sharing.
> The solution is to minimize the axioms at the top levels and to
> introduce them as needed at the problem-oriented lower levels.    (01)

John,     (02)

I have a certain sympathy for elements of this view, but it seems to me
that you are overlooking the potential effects that reasoning at the
"problem-oriented lower levels" can have on sharing information.  Yours
might be a good model for situations in which one organization A simply
imports an ontology from another organization B into their knowledge
base and then reasons upon the merged information for their own
purposes.  But it seems to me that problems could easily arise if A now
wants to share the results of that reasoning with B.  For if A has drawn
upon a higher-level ontology for its reasoning that differs
significantly from B's, the results of that reasoning could well
introduce inconsistencies into B's knowledge base when they import the
results of A's reasoning.    (03)

Moreover, it seems to me that your model doesn't work at all for
situations in which there are disparate individuals, groups, and
organziations all purportedly working in more or less the same very
large field -- Barry's example of biomedicine seems particularly cogent
here.  In such cases, a common upper ontology would seem to me to be
absolutely critical.  Surely it is important that researchers within
that very large community mean the same things by such terms as "blood",
"gene", "ribosome", "protein synthesis", "cellular degeneration", etc,
and that, in particular, they can be sure that the results of any
reasoning upon those terms can be shared consistently within the
community.  But two terms mean the same thing in two contexts only if
their logical consequences are identical -- at least with regard to
vocabulary common to those contexts.  But that in turn will be the case
only if the two contexts agree on relevant upper-level axioms that play
a role in determining those consequences.  Generalizing the point to the
thousands of salient terms within the biomedical community, a fairly
elaborate common upper-level ontology would seem to be essential if
sharing is to be possible within that community at all.    (04)

Chris Menzel    (05)

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