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Re: [ontac-forum] Semantics (1, 2, and 3), Ontology and Semiotics

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Adrian Walker <adrianw@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Mon, 29 May 2006 15:05:51 -0400
Message-id: <>
Hi Chris --

At 01:58 PM 5/28/2006 -0500, you wrote (in reply to a post criticizing RDF semantics)

.... And thus your central confusion.  You think that a formal semantics for
a formal language is somehow a complete characterization of the
semantical purposes to which the language is put.  In fact, such a
semantics is only a rigorous formal model of the general semantical
properties of the given language.  It provides in particular a precise
characterization of the manner in which the meanings of complex
expressions are determined by the meanings of their syntactically
simpler parts.  But such a formal semantics is in general almost
completely silent on the natures of the entities which the language can
be used to characterize.

I agree.  Let's try to take this one step further.

Someone pointed out at a meeting a while back the irony that "semantics" is one of the most ambiguous words that we use when talking about ontologies and the like.  (Perhaps the ambiguity is a plus for funding, but a minus for productive technical discussions?)

I have made a modest attempt to start clearing out the ambiguous underbrush by suggesting the terms:

   Semantics 1   Interleaving of metadata with data, e.g. as in RDF

   Semantics 2   what conclusions a reasoning engine *should* be able
                         to infer from any set of rules and facts

   Semantics 3   the meaning of English concepts at the author- and user-interface
                         of a system.

There's more about this in [1,2].

From a practitioner point of view, the three kinds of Semantics have to "play nicely"  together in one system, e.g. as in [3].

If one takes this admittedly unconventional point of view, it seems at least to help to keep the history of philosophy and AI in perspective.   One can then start to focus on more recent technical issues, such as how to be more ambitious about robust processing of natural language without falling off the "AI-complete" cliff.

What do you think?

                                   Cheers,  -- Adrian

[1]  http://www.semantic-conference.com/program/sessions/S2.html

[2]  http://www.reengineeringllc.com/A_Wiki_for_Business_Rules_in_Open_Vocabulary_Executable_English.pdf

[3]  Internet Business Logic  --  http://www.reengineeringllc.com

Internet Business Logic (R)
Executable open vocabulary English
Online at www.reengineeringllc.com
Shared use is free

Adrian Walker
PO Box 1412
CT 06011-1412 USA

Phone: USA 860 583 9677
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