The New Semantic Web wave (5)

I'll continue and round up my posts on "The New Semantic Web wave". In this post I'll comment on Alex Iskold's posts about the Semantic Web on Read/WriteWeb. The first post is titled "Semantic Web: Difficulties with the Classic Approach" and the second "Top-Down: A New Approach to the Semantic Web".

First of all: Alex, thanks for the insightful posts and the historical overview of the development of the semantic web.

Secondly, to my readers, please read Alex's full posts. Summarizing them for you would withhold you of a good overview. They're long posts, but well worth the read.

Now to my comments.

I really liked the pragmatic approach ("simple semantics") to the long quest for the Semantic Web (refer to figure). I agree with your "new approach" too. Along with the examples you give, I find that Twine and Powerset are applying this new approach, right? They're doing "simple semantics", not waiting for full language understanding by computers (in logic). Just do what you can, like identify names, places, structured queries, etc. For the coming years this "new approach" will keep us busy and will improve our web experience. I do wonder if this really is "new" though. It definitely is a "new wave" of semantic web.

My most fundamental remark has to do with what you say here:

The truth is that the understanding of natural language by computers is a really hard problem. We have the language ingrained in our genes. We learn language as we grow up. We learn things iteratively. We have the chance to clarify things when we do not understand them. None of this is easily replicated with computers.

I completely agree with these sentences. However, I missed what this means for your approach. Could you post on these more philosophical problems of the semantic web. For instance, will computers that are based on logic ("strict rules of logic"), truly be able to understand human language (and speech)? I would say: No, not as long as computers are based on logic. (Refer to Katherine Hayles, How we became posthuman and Paul Cilliers, Complexity and postmodernism a.o. for arguments on this "no".) Human language is partly logical, but also has non-logical parts to it. So when we talk about the semantic web, we're not talking about semantics in a linguistic sense, but in a more limited, derived and technical meaning. And indeed, if this is our definition of semantics, than computers can 'understand' the meaning or derived meaning of the text.

To my readers, by the way, a more recent post on Read/WriteWeb gives an overview of the Semantic Application to watch.


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