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AIC Seminar Series

Reasoning in an Inflationary Infoverse

Patrick DurusauSnowfall Software[Home Page]

Notice:  hosted by Jack Park

Date:  Tuesday, May 23rd 2006 at 9:00am

Location:  EJ228  (Directions)


Ontologies are necessary for "reasoning". An ontology licenses the conclusions that can be drawn from statements about subjects that are expressed in terms of the ontology. But we can only reason about the subjects that we have identified in terms of the ontology. What if someone identifies the same subject differently than we have? If a subject is identified in different ways, the existing information about it may not all be discovered whenever there is reason to discover it.

The problem of subject identification is important because neither humans nor computers can do any reasoning in the light of undiscovered information. Our ontologies and reasoning abilities are useless beyond the perimeter of the information we can find.

The subject identification problem resists a general solution. New ways of identifying subjects constantly appear, and they are often idiosyncratic. Existing techniques and rules for identifying subjects can mutate and/or become obsolete. An additional complication is that different individuals, and different communities of people, may reason about the same subjects differently.

And different people who all happen to participate in the same set of communities may well have different perspectives on the question of exactly when any two communities are talking, in their different ways, about the same subjects. They may express such perspectives as "subject mappings". The differences in their perspectives may be gross, or subtle, or both. Different perspectives may be useful separately and/or in combination with each other.

A subject mapping can be of significant value. If, in its own special way, each community has separately amassed information about the same subject, then, in the light of a mapping that reveals that they are talking about the same thing, both communities can gain access to a larger knowledge pool. The pooling itself may trigger the emergence of new knowledge, so that the new whole is greater than the sum of the parts. New knowledge may emerge because, in effect, we have extended the useful impact of our ontologies beyond the information that happens to be expressed solely in their own terms.

Subject mappings cure the top-down brittleness of individual ontologies. They allow cross-community semantic integrations to be maintained, even without prior constraints on the distribution/delegation of ontological authority. Where there is a marketplace of mappings, ontologies can be allowed to evolve independently, in response to local needs. The diversity of communities and their ontologies can be cherished and harnessed. The inflation of the infoverse becomes a cheery symptom of a diverse and robust knowledge economy, and a source of rich opportunities to exploit both human and automated reasoning.

The key is to amplify the exploitability of cross-community, cross-ontology human expertise. A little subject mapping can have a big impact.

   Bio for Patrick Durusau

Patrick is an information consultant with Snowfall Software. He is a co-editor of ISO 13250-5, the Topic Maps Reference Model. Other standards acitivities include his being Chair of V1, the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) to ISO/IEC JTC 1/SC 34, the committee responsible for the development of the Topic Maps family of standards and Project Editor for ISO/IEC 26300, the OpenDocument Format standard, which was recently accepted into the ISO family of standards.

In the Fall of 2006 he will be teaching what is thought to be the first graduate course devoted exclusively to topic maps at the School of Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is deeply interested in the integration diverse information systems (including ontologies) while preserving the ability of users to identify the subjects of their conversations in ways that work best for them.

Patrick holds degrees in law and theology. Like many in markup and information technologies he is a an errant humanities scholar who went looking for a solution to a practical problem (representation of cuneiform on a Commodore 128) and became fascinated by the potential of information technology for humanities research. He lives in Covington, Georgia with his wife, Carol and Clarence, a Boston Terrier. Contact:

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