What set me off today was discovering a blog called “Two Semantic Webs” in which the author has seen the light and says that she gets it – there are two visions of the Semantic Web. She says (and I quote):
The Intelligent Web is the one evoked by Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s vision in the famous Scientific American article. This is the Semantic Web that people have had trouble buying into. Not because the technology is so far-fetched, but because it implies a sort of Utopian information society where all information is free and everyone has agreed on a common descriptive language to communicate that information. If people see that as a prerequisite for the success of the semantic web, it’s easy to see why they’d dismiss it as “never gonna happen”.
She later says (quoting again)
the Orderly Semantic Web (roughly analogous to what Spivack calls The Intelligent Web) is never going to happen. Universally agreed upon upper ontologies? Not likely. …. The totality of human intelligence expressed using nothing more than syllogisms and first order logic? Set your mind at ease, Clay Shirky, this won’t be necessary.
But wait — what the heck is she refuting?? WE NEVER SAID THAT!!! In fact, in the article being cited, which Shirky might have read, but the people who invoke his name clearly haven’t, what Tim and Ora and I said is (you can find these quotes in the article – go check – they’re there!):
Traditional knowledge-representation systems typically have been centralized, requiring everyone to share exactly the same definition of common concepts such as “parent” or “vehicle.” But central control is stifling, and increasing the size and scope of such a system rapidly becomes unmanageable.
Get it – we are opposing the idea of everyone sharing common concepts. We also say (comparing to the traditional AI view) that:
The Semantic Web, in contrast, is more flexible. The consumer and producer agents can reach a shared understanding by exchanging ontologies, which provide the vocabulary needed for discussion. Agents can even “bootstrap” new reasoning capabilities when they discover new ontologies. Semantics also makes it easier to take advantage of a service that only partially matches a request.
Note the implication – this is not everyone sharing ontologies – it is a view of little pieces of ontology all over the place, and things on the Semantic Web using them as needed. Yes, you need to actually make an inference to realize we said that – we did assume our readers would have a modicum of intelligence. However, for those needing it even more baldly, we stated:
it will “know” all this without needing artificial intelligence on the scale of 2001’s Hal or Star Wars’s C-3PO.
So how in the world can someone say we’re advocates of the big AI vision when we explicitly make it clear we’re pushing for something else.
But wait, there’s more — people contrast our article’s vision to that of a “data web” – the blog mentioned above, for example, says:
The Chaotic Semantic Web is the one I’m interested in. All we need to make it happen is for people to start generating and exposing more data and metadata. We don’t need agreement, and we don’t need to understand how it will all be used. Some time in the future all this data will be useful in ways we can’t currently anticipate, and I’m OK with that.
what I find amazing is that she puts this, which is totally congruent with what Tim and Ora and I have been saying for a decade now, somehow feel they have to put this in opposition to the Semantic Web. I wonder why there is this belief that somehow Shirky’s misrepresentation of the Semantic Web effort is more important than the consistent “free the data” message that Tim Berners-Lee has been discussing – go listen to his Talis piece or others and show me where he talks about some big AI vision with everyone agreeing on one ontology and singing kumbaya.
As for myself, I’ve been an incredibly vocal opponent of the single Web ontology approach since the earliest papers I published on Web ontologies in the mid 90s (check out SHOE, the first Web ontology language, for some ancient history) and have never figured out how we somehow get lumped in with someone like Doug Lenat (who does hold that view) who has also been a vocal opponent of the Semantic Web since we were so counter to his approach …
Heck, Google for ‘Hendler “upper ontology” ‘ and the top hit I get today is http://colab.cim3.net/forum/cuo-wg/2007-02/msg00003.html where you will see me being quoted with what I think about those, and you’ll see me advocating the data web totally and completely. And if you want something further back, see the multiontology view I promote in the 2001 article “Agents and the Semantic Web” or heck, just look in the 2004 W3C “OWL FAQ” where I included sections on how OWL is different from traditional KR languages and how the Semantic Web differs from exactly the AI vision that these critics claim I advocate. Or perhaps you’d like a more current read on where I stand on this — how about my editorial in IEEE Intelligent systems “The Dark Side of the Semantic Web” where, I hope, I make it clear that the Semantic Web that Rachel claims to want is exactly the one I advocate.
In fact, I am a continuing and proud advocate of the Semantic Web and Semantic Web technologies. I helped make OWL happen, and am proud of that. I have evangelized this vision long and hard, and am proud of that. The emergence of Web 3.0, the acceptance of the Semantic Web by companies like Oracle, IBM and, yes, even Microsoft, and the seemingly good health of players like Garlik, Talis, and RadarNetworks, is something I feel I had a material part in and it makes me feel good. The number of participants at the academic ISWC meetings (545 this year) and the more industrial Semantic Technology Conference (about 800 last time) shows the interest is real and growing, and I’m glad to see it. The web of data that is the Semantic Web is out there and it is growing! This stuff is the real deal, coming soon to a Web site near you.
So, Clay Shirky, Tim O’Reilly, Rachel, and others – there may be people who advocate the sort of “everyone should just do it my way” Semantic Web that you so rightly criticize, but stop claiming it is me, or Tim, or Ora who says that – we didn’t, we don’t, and I doubt we ever will!!