Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Semantic Con

I don't really mean the pun in the title; the Semantic Technologies conference was actually pretty interesting, in a hypeish sort of way. It represnts the attempt to diffuse a set of academic technologies and standards into industry. Note that while the standards (RDF, OWL, etc) are promoted and developed under the rubric "Semantic Web", the web is notably absent from the conference title. That's because these technologies are not being taken up so much in by the web proper, but are being sold to huge organizations with massive and complex data integration needs. These include defense (aero), intelligence, finance, and biotech. At the grassroots, it is being pushed by working life scientists trying to solve the same sorts of problems. Here's a presentation by Carole Goble that summarizes the hype pretty nicely, and without much technical detail.

The Semantic Web standards are complex, verbose, and hard to understand. They are backed by Web programmers prefer simpler standards: REST over SOAP, folksonomies over ontologies. Web guys do mashups and go to ETech; semantic technologists propose complex architectures and require large funders to get them realized.

It surprises me but it looks like the pressure of hard problems with good funding will overcome the complexity barrier of the Semantic Web. It surprises me not even so much because the syntaxes are complex and verbose, but the results are fairly inexpressive and inflexible in certain ways (for instance, OWL, the ontology standard, is based on description logic which makes it hard to do something as simple as default reasoning, something any simple old-fashioned frame system could do). Having been out of industrial grade AI for awhile, I will reserve judgement.

No comments: