The Age of Semantics

In a recent presentation by Tony Hey on “eScience and Semantic Computing” (large PDF), which is heavily influenced by Evelyne Viega’s and my ideas, the “ages of semantic computing” were presented (Evelyne’s idea) as a way to capture how our thinking has evolved over the years…

  • Enlightenment age: “It is not all about philosophy, it is about ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE”
  • Romantic age: “Well, it is not about AI… but we can model the WORLD’s KNOWLEDGE. And we should!”
  • Psychedelic age: “Perhaps we cannot model the world’s knowledge but we can declare success if universally agree to some common labels”
  • Renaissance age: “Nah… Ontology is overrated… Let’s use community-driven categories instead: (tags, folksonomies, microformats, etc.)”
  • Age of reason: “Modest, simple steps. Embrace the loosely-coupled, chaotic nature of the Web. Make use of the experience and expertise built throughout the previous ages. Machine learning, statistics, formats, ontologies… they all have a role to play.”

The full presentation (apologies for the quality of the images in the PDF output) is available from the Practical Semantic Astronomy workshop website.

In the presentation, you’ll notice the concept of “data networks”, which is something I’ve been writing about for few years now (remember “Web overlays: Some thoughts about machine-processable knowledge representation”?). In some of my Grid/Cloud computing talks I’ve also hinted at the concept, using the following diagram…


Well, Evelyne and I have been interacting with some very clever people inside MIcrosoft. We are all excited about the opportunities of “semantic computing” in the future of software and services. Andrea Westerinen is amongst those people. She is part of my previous team, the Connected Systems Division architecture team, and she’s recently started blogging about modeling, semantics, etc. Very cool! Reading her first few entries reminded me of the “declarative distributed computing” ideas accompanying MEST in my blog entries few years back (e.g. the “On description languages, REST, the Web, MEST, SSDL, and ‘declarative distributed computing’” post from back in May 2005). I came to Microsoft to live that dream but it didn’t really work out immediately through my initial gig. I am thrilled now to see ideas taking shape and I am excited with what the CSD folks are preparing for us (even though I don’t have any inside information, I suspect that we’ll be hearing a lot more about what’s in store in the upcoming developer conferences). It goes without saying that I’ve subscribed to Andrea‘s blog and I am really looking forward to further interacting with her.

Evelyne and I are creating a community inside Microsoft around the concept of “semantic computing”. We use this term in order to avoid the reaction that some have when they hear “Semantic Web”, “RDF”, “OWL”, ontologies, etc. We really don’t care about specific technologies or approaches. Give us the ability to reason about data, to infer information, to manage knowledge and call it anything you like :-)

Back to Data Networking… well, in the same presentation on “eScience and Semantic Computing”, you’ll notice that there are some slides about our “research output” repository platform. This is a project I’ve been working on for the last 3 months with a fantastic group of people. We have finally agreed to start talking about it in public so I am really looking forward to writing more. The platform implements some of the ideas around “data networks” (not very dissimilar to Tim Berners-Lee‘s “Giant Global Graph”). Stay tuned in the next couple of days.

I’ve been very lucky over the last few months to collaborate and interact with clever people like Evelyne Viegas, Jim Karkanias, Andrea Westerinen, and others who really “get it”. It’s been and continues to be a blast!

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