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

To: "ONTAC-WG General Discussion" <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>, "CG" <cg@xxxxxxxxxx>
Cc: guarino@xxxxxxxxxx
From: "Obrst, Leo J." <lobrst@xxxxxxxxx>
Date: Thu, 29 Dec 2005 10:26:56 -0500
Message-id: <9F771CF826DE9A42B548A08D90EDEA80A9F117@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
John,    (01)

I draw different conclusions from the experience of SUO, and largely
programmatic rather than substantive in nature.    (02)

1) For any standards activity (which the SUO purports to be), there
must be general agreement for the need for the standard. By "general",
I mean general agreement among those who have some competency and
interest to address the standard. Has this ever been true for SUO? I
don't think so. Instead it's been a forum for discussion about upper
ontologies and related and often unrelated issues. Not that there's
anything wrong with that per se, but it's not a standards activity.
There has never been a common purpose, as far as I can tell. There were
attempts to make it so, but these largely devolved into legalistic
disputations on protocols. There has never been one agenda.     (03)

2) There was never a strict standards-based regimen for SUO. For a
standard to emerge (let alone succeed) a lot of work must be done by at
least a small group of people. Although I have some issues with the W3C
methodology, it is strong, pragmatic, and gets things done. There is
structure, time-dependent goals, and mechanisms for adjudicating
disagreements and accomplishing those goals. There are use cases and
requirements formulated. Finally, there is closure: a version of a
standard emerges, representing a stake in the ground. Is it perfect?
No, it never is. But it's reasonably good and useful. SUO has never had
this regimen. Note that I do not fault the SUO chair (who has
persevered and performed admirably under trying circumstances) for this
lack, but the SUO membership and perhaps the IEEE standardization
procedures: members have never assumed responsibility and the
procedures were not there to insist that they do.    (04)

3) Some members of SUO have in fact tried to sabotage prospective
success, arguing either about the impossibility of the task to create
an upper ontology or denigrating the contributions of other members
eager to make headway. This behavior ensures failure. A common upper
ontology is impossible because the SUO, organized to develop one, has
not done so. Uh, something wrong with that reasoning.    (05)

1-3 have driven many interested potential participants from the SUO,
and I am afraid in their current incarnation here may do the same for
ONTAC/COSMO.     (06)

ONTAC/COSMO needs dedicated and informed members to accomplish real
goals set out in a reasonable fashion, with deliverables. And use
cases/requirements to drive those. And structure that channels the
energy toward accomplishment.     (07)

Leo    (08)

Dr. Leo Obrst       The MITRE Corporation, Information Semantics 
lobrst@xxxxxxxxx    Center for Innovative Computing & Informatics 
Voice: 703-983-6770 7515 Colshire Drive, M/S H305 
Fax: 703-983-1379   McLean, VA 22102-7508, USA     (09)

-----Original Message-----
From: ontac-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx
[mailto:ontac-forum-bounces@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx] On Behalf Of John F. Sowa
Sent: Tuesday, December 27, 2005 12:13 PM
To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion; CG
Cc: guarino@xxxxxxxxxx
Subject: [ontac-forum] Future directions for ontologies and
terminologies    (010)

Following is an edited and slightly expanded version
of a note that I sent to the SUO list.  I believe that
the conclusions I list below apply equally well to the
ONTAC efforts.    (011)

John Sowa    (012)

-------- Original Message --------    (013)

I think most people have come to some conclusion like that:    (014)

> Maybe because we all are becoming accustomed to the thinking
> that the SUO is a pipe dream and better to leave behind the
> listing and all associated with it.    (015)

When the SUO group was founded in 2000, most of us had some hope
that a useful upper ontology could be developed, but nobody was
able to agree on a common upper level.  Some conclusions:    (016)

  1. Everybody who develops an upper ontology has very different
     and inconsistent axioms at the topmost levels.    (017)

  2. Those inconsistencies at the top make it impossible to share
     anything at the lower levels with any other ontology whose
     lower levels depend on assumptions made at the top.    (018)

  3. Yet people have been communicating successfully for thousands
     of years with very few common assumptions about top-level
     entities, such as time, place, object, process, etc.    (019)

  4. Database systems have been interoperating successfully for
     about 40 years with very few axioms or assumptions about
     the top levels.    (020)

  5. The most successful sharing in *all* fields -- science,
     engineering, medicine, business, etc. -- has been based on
     *terminology* at lower levels with very few, if any axioms
     about the upper levels.    (021)

  6. On the other hand, we do need axioms (and programs, which
     are essentially compiled axioms) in order to do any kind of
     detailed reasoning, computation, and problem solving.    (022)

  7. Therefore, we should make a clear distinction between the
     vocabularies or terminologies, which have very few axioms,
     and the problem-oriented reasoning and computational
     systems.  For general purposes, sharing should be based on
     the terminology.  For reasoning and computation, the axioms
     should be introduced at the lower, problem-oriented levels.    (023)

In short, the hope of finding a detailed common set of axioms
at the upper levels is *DOOMED*.  On the other hand, a very
simple upper level with very little detail would be possible.    (024)

For example, the upper level might say that there exist such
things as objects and processes, but not make *any* distinction
between the two.  The question of which things are objects and
which are processes would not be determined by axioms, but just
by listing them:  a ball, a tree, and a house are objects, but
walking, cooking, and cleaning are processes.    (025)

Some things, such as a star or a vortex could be listed without
any commitment to whether they're an object or a process.  Then
one could talk (or reason) about the sun as an object for some
applications or a process for others.  A hurricane could be
listed as a vortex, and it would be possible to reason about a
hurricane with either object-oriented or process-oriented axioms.    (026)

That approach would accommodate both Whitehead's ontology, which
makes processes fundamental, and an ontology that makes objects
fundamental.  In W's ontology, all objects, stars, and vortices
would be defined as types of processes, but there would be no
need to make that assumption in general.    (027)

For any kind of detailed work in science and engineering,
Whitehead's ontology is more realistic, but for reasoning
about everyday things, it might be convenient to assume that
objects are the participants that constitute processes.  For
some problems, one or another of those assumptions might be
preferable, but those detailed axioms should only be assumed
at the problem-oriented level, *not* at the upper levels.    (028)

Another example is the question whether a vase and the lump
of clay from which it is made are one object or two.  That is
another assumption that is very much problem dependent, and
it should *not* be a requirement enforced at the upper levels.
The only people who worry about such issues might be pottery
workers, and they have much more detailed problems to think about.    (029)

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.    (030)

John Sowa    (031)

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