RE: SUO: Maintenance - related issues
Thanks for this, Chris,
. Comments interspersed, prefaced by: "GH>
. I hope the dialogue below furthers comprehension of what I
Cheers Graham Horn
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
Email: Graham.Horn@aihw.gov.au <mailto:email@example.com>
From: Chris Menzel [mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: Tuesday, October 17, 2000 3:55 PM
To: Horn, Graham
Subject: Re: SUO: Maintenance - related issues
> I think John has aired some important points below, which hedge around my
stance that the benefits of the current thrusts will be minor compared to
that achievable if the SUO structure focuses on the formats of an
unambiguous adaptation of natural language.
It is good that you recognize you would need an "adaptation" of natural
language. To eliminate ambiguity adequately and achieve the clarity
necessary to ensure undertanding of an ontology -- notably, the logical
properties of, and relations among, its constituent concepts -- you will
have to regiment natural language to an extent that, in effect, your
"adaptaton" is a first-order language.
GH> I'm quite happy with this. I believe it would benefit a large number
of lay people to be aware that such a language would be available to
facilitate unambiguous communication.
> The SUO is currently instead heading down the road of becoming a highly
symbolic ontology that will be very foreign and unreadable to the average
Like most any engineering model with the rigor needed to perform its
GH> As an engineer, one who has been an innovator in that role, and one
who reads engineering history books as part of a hobby, I can't say I agree
with you here. Some of those books are very clear and succinct in plain
d could be used as design manuals.
GH> Coming from the other extreme, I would say it's possible to
precisely and unambiguously explain in words every symbol and symbolic
expression in English words. I'm not necessarily saying this would be easy,
mind you, but that's why I would prefer the adaptation mentioned above to
avoid existing ambiguities and imprecisions.
> I think this line of development arises naturally out of eliciting support
from admittedly keen logicians, who understandably want to stick to their
familiar "symbo-logical" structures, because that is where they feel at
Logicians speak natural languages pretty well too.
GH> This is part of my point.
Familiarity has nothing to do with it. To this point, ontologies have
chiefly been designed to play a central role in a certain type of computer
application, namely, the representation, management (searching, reasoning,
etc), and sharing of information. To play this role, the clarity and
precision of logical languages are essential.
GH> That's exactly what I'm arguing for, but just using the more precise
forms of English grammar and vocabulary to do it.
Perhaps you have other applications in mind that don't require this sort of
GH> Not a bit of it. I am proposing an absolutely precise adaptation of
English. This would be largely a subset of the current language we all
speak, for example each word would be restricted to only one meaning
(preferably the most commonly used of its current meanings), but also:
* where some words be allocated a modified meaning (precise, and
preferably closely aligned to its current most commonly used meaning) where
the current meaning is hazy ("manage" and "administer" may be examples where
this would be appropriate, the former possibly being defined as the
controlling through development of policy, and the latter as controlling
through the application of policy); and
* there would be some new words fabricated to cover useful concepts
where these are either not currently covered by a single word, or, more
commonly, where the current word used is a metaphorical application of an
existing word with another main meaning(eg. "button", "mouse", "head",
"monitor", etc.); while
* there may also be means of indicating different uses of words, such
as where the same word can act in more than part of speech (unless this can
be reliably indicated by the specified syntax / grammar).
But that does not undermine the need for a formal SUO for computational
GH> Of course not. What I'm saying is that, through such means as I've
indicated above, the formal SUO can be based on natural language, and that,
if that is done (and done well), then it would achieve far wider acceptance,
and would provide have greater value to human kind.
> However, I feel this means it will remain buried in the secret files of
industry designers and software developers, and probably not even of
No secrets here; it will be a public standard.
GH> Yes, technically you are quite correct, and this applies to many
standards already. However, almost all of them may as well be industrial
secrets, for all the majority of the populace are aware, even in "1st World"
And far more accessible than many mathematically oriented standards. (My
better freshman students can translate proficiently into first-order logic
after 3 months of biweekly classes.)
GH> Agreed, but that doesn't mean one closely based on natural language
wouldn't be far user-friendlier.
GH> (I may as well as go the whole way here) What I would aim for is
that most lay people, even of ordinary intelligences, could readily
understand the type of SUO I am proposing. All people are supposed to have
around 10 to the power of 21 neurones on average. That's an enormous amount
of intellectual power. Human society has been encouraging more application
of that power in recent decades, as indicated by such phrases as
"information age" and "children's rights". Society is recognising that lay
people have far more ability to think than it used to give credit for. I am
proposing an SUO that would be far more widely accessible than one intended
for society's intellectual elites.
> The main benefit I see from a "natural language based SUO" would be a
greater clarity of logical implications of situations and devices (both
physical and conceptual) to the average person across societies and
populations around the globe. I would include in conceptual devices those
that are educational, legal and sociological, so I suggest the benefits
would extend right across society.
I wouldn't want to discount any of these. But again, the project you
envision is entirely orthogonal to the development of a formal SUO.
GH> I don't agree, but please explain how what I am proposing differs
from the development of a formal SUO. I am genuinely proposing an absolutely
precise structure in both semantics and syntax, but one that is easily human
and machine interpretable, and machine executable. What does the project
involve that cannot be covered by such a structure?
However, the problems and limitations of data dictionaries and other natural
language based "technologies" do not augur well for your project.
GH> Really, the only difference I am asking for is the nature of the
symbology. The rest is identical either way. Accordingly, this concern must
apply to the project regardless of what I am proposing. I see a similarity
to the choice between basing the SUO on English as against Navaho (which war
historians may recall was used as a secret code during World War 2), or, say
Guyani, a South Australian Aboriginal language. Most people would definitely
find the first mentioned the easiest to relate to
> A small example of the benefits I could see from a "natural language based
SUO" could be a release from the frustrations of the current unintuitive and
inconsistent behaviour of Windows, which many of us have to tolerate every
GH> Exactly, but how much market penetration does it have so far? Is it
so very different to Esperanto in that project's early years? What are we
trying to do other than come up with a logical, precise and unambiguous
machine readable modern equivalent to Esperanto?
GH> I am also reminded of various Unix purists I have come across in
previous years, who felt that was the way of the future for the ideal
Christopher Menzel # web: philebus.tamu.edu/~cmenzel
Philosophy, Texas A&M University # net: email@example.com
College Station, TX 77843-4237 # vox: (979) 845-8764