Monday, October 13, 2014

Understanding semantics and Pinker's "Curse of Knowledge"

I recently read an interesting editorial in the Wall Street Journal from Steven Pinker. It was titled, "The Source of Bad Writing", and discussed something that Pinker called the "Curse of Knowledge".
Curse of Knowledge: a difficulty in imagining what it is like for someone else not to know something that you know
After reading that article, looking at the various posts asking where to find good online courses on semantic technologies and linked data, discussing problems related to finding qualified job candidates, and listening to people (like my husband) who say that I make their heads explode, I decided to talk about semantics differently. Instead of explaining specific aspects of ontologies or semantics, or writing about disconnected aspects of the technologies, I want to go back to basics and explore how and what I do in creating ontologies, what to worry about, how to create, evolve and use an ontology and triple store, ...

Then, I need some feedback from my readers. As Steven Pinker says,
A ... way to exorcise the curse of knowledge is to close the loop, ... and get a feedback signal from the world of readers—that is, show a draft to some people who are similar to your intended audience and find out whether they can follow it. ... The other way to escape the curse of knowledge is to show a draft to yourself, ideally after enough time has passed that the text is no longer familiar. If you are like me you will find yourself thinking, "What did I mean by that?" or "How does this follow?" or, all too often, "Who wrote this crap?"
There are many good papers, books and blog posts on the languages, technologies and standards behind the Semantic Web. (Hopefully, some of my work is there.) I don't want to create yet another tutorial on these, but I do want to talk about creating and using ontologies. So, for the next 6 months or so, my goal is to design and create a set of ontologies through these blog posts - delving into existing ontologies, and semantic languages/standards and tools. In addition, as the ontologies are created, I will discuss using them - which moves us into triple stores and queries.

As we go along, I will reference specs from the W3C, other blog posts and information and tools on the web. My goal is that you can get all of the related specs, tools and details for free. I hope that you will be interested enough to scan or download them (or you might know and use them already), and ask more questions. What is important is to understand the basics, and then we can build from there.

The first question is "What is the subject of the ontology that we will be building and using?" Since I am interested in policy-based management, I would like to develop an ontology and infrastructure to answer the question: "What access and handling policies are in effect for a document?"

At first blush, you might think that the process is relatively easy. Find the document, get its details, find what policies apply, and then follow those policies. But, the policies that apply are possibly dictated by the subject or author of the document, or when it was written (since regulations and company policies change over time). Worse, the access policies are likely defined (and stored) separately from the handling/digital rights policies, but need to be considered together. Lastly, how do we even begin to understand what the policies are saying?

I hope that you see that I did not choose an easy subject at all, but one that will take some time to think through and develop. I am looking forward to doing this and would like your feedback, questions, comments and advice, along the way.


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