The Semantic Web 35/40

April 3, 2007 at 6:28 am | Posted in Web 2.0 | 1 Comment
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I’m in the process of adding a Semantic Web paragraph to the paper I’m revising at the moment. Here are some basic definitions that are useful to everyone on the web (who cares just a little about the technology he is using):

The Semantic Web is a web of data. There is lots of data we all use every day, and its not part of the web. I can see my bank statements on the web, and my photographs, and I can see my appointments in a calendar. But can I see my photos in a calendar to see what I was doing when I took them? Can I see bank statement lines in a calendar?

Why not? Because we don’t have a web of data. Because data is controlled by applications, and each application keeps it to itself.

The Semantic Web is about two things. It is about common formats for integration and combination of data drawn from diverse sources, where on the original Web mainly concentrated on the interchange of documents. It is also about language for recording how the data relates to real world objects. That allows a person, or a machine, to start off in one database, and then move through an unending set of databases which are connected not by wires but by being about the same thing.

[Source: Semantic Web by Ivan Herman for the World Wide Web Consortium]

The Semantic Web will bring structure to the meaningful content of Web pages, creating an environment where software agents roaming from page to page can readily carry out sophisticated tasks for users. [..]

The Semantic Web is not a separate Web but an extension of the current one, in which information is given well-defined meaning, better enabling computers and people to work in cooperation. [..]

For the semantic web to function, computers must have access to structured collections of information and sets of inference rules that they can use to conduct automated reasoning. Artificial-intelligence researchers have studied such systems since long before the Web was developed. Knowledge representation, as this technology is often called, is currently in a state comparable to that of hypertext before the advent of the Web: it is clearly a good idea, and some very nice demonstrations exist, but it has not yet changed the world. It contains the seeds of important applications, but to realize its full potential it must be linked into a single global system. [..]

Adding logic to the Web—the means to use rules to make inferences, choose courses of action and answer questions—is the task before the Semantic Web community at the moment. A mixture of mathematical and engineering decisions complicate this task. The logic must be powerful enough to describe complex properties of objects but not so powerful that agents can be tricked by being asked to consider a paradox. Fortunately, a large majority of the information we want to express is along the lines of “a hex-head bolt is a type of machine bolt,” which is readily written in existing languages with a little extra vocabulary. [..]

The Semantic Web will enable machines to COMPREHEND semantic documents and data, not human speech and writings. [..]

The Semantic Web, in naming every concept simply by a URI, lets anyone express new concepts that they invent with minimal effort. Its unifying logical language will enable these concepts to be progressively linked into a universal Web. This structure will open up the knowledge and workings of humankind to meaningful analysis by software agents, providing a new class of tools by which we can live, work and learn together.

[Source: “The Semantic Web. A new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers will unleash a revolution of new possibilities“.
By Tim Berners-Lee, James Hendler and Ora Lassila. Scientific American, May 2001.]


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  1. I’m interested in what this new class of tools will look like. It would be nice to have information, about, say, naturalism, linked into a universal web.

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