O'Really?

April 25, 2008

WWW2008: The Great Firewall of China

Passage [The Great Wall / Beijing] by d'n'cThe seventeenth international World Wide Web conference (WWW2008.org) is currently finishing in Beijing, China. There are some interesting papers this year. Thankfully, the Great Firewall of China doesn’t prevent these papers reaching the rest of the world. It’s One World, One Web (allegedly). Here are some brief highlights from the conference. (more…)

March 14, 2008

Semantic Web? Yeah, Whatever!

Filed under: semweb — Duncan Hull @ 11:59 am
Tags: , , , , ,

(To be spoken in the best SoCal Valley Speak you can muster)

I went down to the beach and saw Yahoo
She was, like, all “semantic web
And I was, like, “whatever!”

(more…)

February 26, 2008

So, no-one told you life was going to be this way

Filed under: semweb — Duncan Hull @ 1:29 pm
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Friends via Hot Rod HomepageSo, no-one told you life was going to be this way
Your job is a joke, you are broke, your love life is DOA.
It is like you are always stuck in second gear
Well, it has not been your day, your week, your month, or even your year…

OWL be there for you, when the rain starts to pour. Software engineer Leigh Dodds explains how: (more…)

November 30, 2007

Burn semantic Web, Burn!

Taking down A.I. town?

Danger! Religious Wars!The Semantic Web is (quote) “a new form of Web content that is meaningful to computers”. It will “unleash a revolution of new possibilities” using a magical “new” artificially intelligent technology called ontology. So says a much-cited article in Scientific American published back in May 2001. Most people who have read this article, fall into two camps: “believers” and “non-believers”. Let me tell you a short story about a religious war between these two groups…

An Old War Story: Chapter 1

This is a work of fiction, though as they say in Hollywood it is “based on a true story”. Characters names are real.

A crusade of semantic web believers, is started by three people called Jim Hendler, Ora Lassila and Tim Berners-Lee. At the heart of their faith is a holy scripture and a suite of sacred technology called the semantic web stack. If people use this technology, the crusaders believe, the Web would be a better place. Search engines like Google, for example, would be even smarter than they already are, because they would intelligently “know what you mean“, when you type your keywords. All this new magic comes from using good old fashioned logic, metadata and reasoning. Better Search Engines is one of the mantras of the semantic web troops as they pour onto the battlefield towards the promised land. Viva la Webolution! Charge!

A counter-attack is launched by the non-believers of this vision of the future. They rally behind a man called Clay Shirky who roars “the semantic web is doomed” at the top of his voice. Many others echo Shirky’s sentiment, including Peter Norvig, Rob McCool, Cory Doctorow and Tim O’Reilly. General Shirky makes powerful allies in battle, and he has a two-pronged attack. “Ontology is over-rated” he jeers. Led by Shirky, the non-believers capture the sacred technology, add their own firewood and put the torch to it in a very public place. The flames leap into the sky, visible for miles around.

“Burn semantic web, burn!” the non-believers cry as they gleefully dance around the fire.

The battle rages, the believers will not take this heresy lying down. They regroup and surge forward again. Death to the blasphemers! With the help of some biologists, they seek revenge using the Gene Ontology as deadly ammunition. The non-believers are confused by this tactic, they don’t know what genes are and neither do the biologists. Unfortunately, the biologists unwittingly find themselves in the middle of an epic battle they didn’t start. There are ugly skirmishes involving logic and graph theory. Dormant and hideous A.I. monsters are resurrected from their caves, where they spent the A.I. winter. These gruesome monsters make the Balrog beast from Lord of the Rings look like a childrens cuddly toy.

From the relative safety of their command centres, the leaders orchestrating the war look on. Many foot soldiers and PhD students have been slayed on the field of battle, tragic young victims of the holy war. Understandably the crusaders are unhappy. Jim Hendler isn’t pleased as he surveys the carnage and devasation. Ora Lassila is also disappointed.

“We never said that, you completely minsunderstood. You are all burning the wrong thing, using fuel we never gave you. You lied, you cheated, you faked, you changed the stakes!”

There is a lull in battle. But confusion reigns, especially among the innocent civilians and bewildered biologists.

(End of chapter 1)

Epilogue

As of the winter of 2007, the semantic web fire is still burning. While I warm myself next to it, using all the juicy metadata as material for my PhD, it is still too early to predict just how useful the technology is going to be. It doesn’t really matter if you’re a “believer”, a “non-believer” or completely agnostic about the semantic web. The religious war beween the two sides tells you more about human behaviour, than it does about the utility of the technology. Optimists profit from making bold claims to get noticed on the battlefield. Critics are more cynical, furthering their own careers by countering the optimists claims. Other people interpret the interpretations of the cynics second-hand. Thanks to cumulative error, or the Chinese whispers effect, everyone gets really upset. The original optimists vision has been changed in ways they didn’t expect.

It’s a very natural and human story amidst all the “artificial” machine intelligence.

Ora, Jim and Tim have done quite well out of the fighting. Google Scholar reckons their original article has been cited nearly 5000 times. That is a lot of attention, in scientific circles, a veritable blockbuster hit. At the time of writing, not even Albert Einstein can match that, and his ideas are much more important than the semantic web probably ever will be. Many good scientists with important ideas can only dream of publishing a paper that is as heavily cited as that infamous Scientific American article. So which do you think would most scientists prefer:

  • Being internationally known and talked about, but misunderstood by large groups of people?
  • Being relatively unknown, ignored but well understood by a small and obscure group of people?

Neither is ideal but I think in most cases, there is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.

We have reached the end of chapter 1 of this little story. Wouldn’t it be nice if Chapter 2 was less bloody? Perhaps the two sides could focus more on facts and evidence, rather than the beliefs, opinions, marketing, hype and “visions” that have dominated the battle so far. As the winter solstice approaches and the new year beckons, can we give peace, diplomacy and above all SCIENCE a chance?

The Moral of the Story (so far)

The moral of this old war story is simple. Religions of various kinds have been known to make people commit horrendous and completely unreasonable war crimes. Nobody is innocent. So if you don’t like a fight, steer well clear of religious wars.

Acknowledgements

  1. The “burn” idea comes from Leftfield with John Lydon (1995) Open Up “Burn Hollywood, Burn! Taking down Tinseltown
  2. Thanks to Carole for the idea of using fiction to illustrate science see Carole Goble and Chris Wroe (2005) The Montagues and the Capulets: In fair Genomics, where we lay our scene… Comparative and Functional Genomics 5(8):623-632 DOI:10.1002/cfg.442 seeAlso Shakespearean Genomics: a plague on both your houses)
  3. This post, originally published on nodalpoint

December 12, 2006

Semantic Web for Life Sciences Book

Filed under: semweb — Duncan Hull @ 4:57 pm
Tags: ,

Revolutionizing Knowledge Discovery in the Life Sciences
All I want for Christmas is a book about the semantic web, written by people who are actually building and using it, rather than “visionaries” who don’t have to. Maybe this year I’ll be lucky…

A group of semantic webheads (aka HCLSIG the Health Care and Life Sciences Interest Group) led by Christopher J. Baker and Kei-Hoi Cheung and gathered together on public-semweb-lifesci@w3.org have written a book about the semantic web for life sciences.

I haven’t seen the final printed version of this book yet, but if you want to add it to your christmas amazon wishlist, its called Semantic Web: Revolutionizing Knowledge Discovery in the Life Sciences (ISBN:0387484361). The table of contents for the book (DOI:10.1007/978-0-387-48438-9) has more details if you are interested.

So what about other readers, what bioinformatics presents (not just books) would they like to find under the Christmas tree this year? If you don’t celebrate Christmas, what Solstice wishes do you have?

(see original post at nodalpoint for comments)

July 25, 2006

AAAI’06: Highlights and conclusions

The AAAI conference finished last Thursday, here are some highlights and papers that might be worth reading if you are interested in building and / or using a more “intelligent” (and possibly semantic) web in bioinformatics.

Here are the papers or talks I enjoyed the most and hope you might also find them useful or inspiring.

  1. Unifying Logical and Statistical AI talk given by Pedro Domingos.

    Intelligent agents must be able to handle the complexity and uncertainty of the real world. Logical AI (of which the semantic web is an example) has focused mainly on the former, and statistical AI (e.g. machine learning) on the latter. The two approaches can be united, with significant benefits, some of which are demonstrated by the Alchemy system

  2. Developing an intelligent personal assistant: The CALO (Cognitive Agent at that Learns and Organises) project talk given by Karen Myers.

    CALO is a desktop assistant that learns what you do in the lab / office. Sounds spooky, but involves some interesting technology and fascinating research questions.

  3. Bookmark hierarchies and collaborative recommendation by Ben Markines, Lubomira Stoilova and Filippo Menczer.

    Describes an open-source, academically-oriented social bookmarking site where you can donate your bookmarks to science at givealink

  4. Social network-based Trust in Prioritised Default Logic by Yarden Katz and Jennifer Golbeck.

    Who and how can you trust on the Web?

  5. Google vs Berners-Lee was a memorable debate. According to Jim Hendler, Tim and Peter are reconciling their differences now

Not particularly webby, but…

…entertaining nonetheless.

  1. Stephen Muggletons talk on Computational Biology and Chemical Turing Machines, went down well but unfortunately I was stuck in a parallel track, experiencing “death by ontology”.
  2. Bruce Buchanan gave a talk What Do We Know About Knowledge. A roller-coaster ride through the last 2000+ years of human attempts to understand what knowledge is, how to represent it and why it is powerful
  3. Winning the DARPA Grand Challenge with an AI Robot called Stanley talk given by Sebastian Thrun, amazing presentation on a driving a robotic car through the desert over rough terrain. However, it doesn’t take too much imagination to think of horrific applications of this. Next year they will try to drive it from San Francisco to Los Angeles on a public freeway, and Stanley hasn’t even passed its driving test yet!

Turing’s dream

Appropriately, the conference which was subtitled Celebrating 50 years of AI finished with two talks by Lenhart K. Schubert and Stuart M. Shieber about the Turing test. The first discussed Turing’s dream and the Knowledge Challenge, the second talk asked Does the Turing Test Demonstrate Intelligence or Not? Now I’m back in Manchester, where Turing once worked, I can’t help wondering, what would Alan make of the current state of AI and the semantic web? I think there are several possibilities, he could be thinking:

  • EITHER: Fifty odd years later, they’re not still wasting time working on that Turing test are they?!
  • OR: He is smugly satisifed that he devised a test, that no machine has passed, and perhaps never will, but has provided us with a satisfactory operational definition of “intelligence” ;
  • …AND What the hell is the “Semantic Web”?

We will never know what Alan Turing would make of todays efforts to make a more intelligent web. However, that won’t stop me speculating that he would be impressed by the current uses of computers (intelligent or otherwise) to drive robots through the desert, perform all sort of computations on proteins and to search for information on this massive distributed global knowledge-base we call the “Web”. Not bad for 50 years of work, here’s to the next 50…

References

  1. Alan Turing (1950) Computing Machinery and Intelligence: The Turing TestMind 59(236):433-460
  2. Stephen H. Muggleton (2006) Exceeding human limits: The Chemical Turing MachineNature 440:409-410
  3. Stephen H. Muggleton (2006) Towards Chemical Universal Turing Machines in Proceedings on the 21st National Conference on Artificial Intelligence
  4. Picture credit: Image from Steve Jurvetson
  5. This post was originally published on nodalpoint with comments
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