[Paleopsych] CNET: Next big step for the Web--or a detour?

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Sat Apr 23 23:49:24 UTC 2005

We'll get a global brain, one way or another. End of articles for today.

Next big step for the Web--or a detour?

    By Paul Festa
    Story last modified Wed Mar 09 08:11:00 PST 2005

    SAN FRANCISCO--Is the "Semantic Web" the new Internet, or a complex
    technology in search of a problem to solve?

    That's a question that advocates attending the [6]Semantic Technology
    Conference here this week hope to put to rest. Standards advocates,
    venture capitalists, computer scientists and technology executives are
    meeting at the three-day conference to discuss enterprise applications
    for the Semantic Web--the World Wide Web Consortium's growing
    collection of protocols designed to make a wealth of new information
    accessible and reusable through the Web.

    Attempting to quell widespread skepticism, standards advocates say
    recent implementations of Semantic Web protocols by large technology
    companies herald the arrival of the Internet's next evolutionary

    Backers of the technology--led by W3C Director Tim Berners-Lee, an
    Englishman who was [7]knighted last year for his creation of the Web's
    first protocols--make big claims for it, comparing its advent to the
    dawn of the Web 10 years ago. Just as the Web encompassed existing
    Internet technologies while adding its revolutionary system of
    hyperlinks, so, they claim, will the Semantic Web give birth to vastly
    more powerful ways of gleaning information from the world's computer
    What's new:
    Advocates of the Semantic Web say it will give birth to vastly more
    powerful ways of gleaning information from the world's computer

    Bottom line:
    [highimpact.gif] Claims about the technology's potential are being
    tempered by concerns about personal privacy and technological
    complexity--and worries that the Semantic Web is no more than
    pie-in-the-sky artificial intelligence research. Tim Berners-Lee,
    though, says he heard the same notes of skeptism regard the World Wide

    [8]More stories on activities of the World Wide Web Consortium

    Such claims are being measured against concerns about personal privacy
    and technological complexity, and against perceptions that the
    Semantic Web activity is pie-in-the-sky artificial intelligence
    research that's distracting the consortium from its mission of
    maintaining fundamental "good enough" Web protocols. What's more, some
    analysts and technologists who follow the W3C's work closely say that
    even after years of work and the publication of [9]several
    foundational documents, they still have no idea what the Semantic Web

    "I'm not against any attempts to do more sophisticated knowledge
    management on the Web," said [10]Peter O'Kelley, an analyst with the
    Burton Group. "But it's not entirely clearly to me what problem these
    guys think they're solving. The simplicity and robustness of the Web
    we have today is one of the things that's made it so successful. The
    Semantic Web is not going to be as broadly applicable as the
    technologies we have today. With all due respect to Sir Tim, there's a
    lot of mileage left in the Web as we know it."

    Berners-Lee said in an interview that the haze of confusion
    surrounding the Semantic Web activity has a familiar ring.

    "It's akin to the responses I got years ago when I was trying to
    explain this Web thing to people, especially in industry," Berners-Lee
    said. "The idea of a universal information space with identifiers and
    one-way links was a paradigm shift. We didn't have the vocabulary then
    to describe the things we take for granted now with regards to the Web
    in general. So it is with the Semantic Web."

    Selling the concept
    This week's conference is intended, in part, to familiarize the
    vocabulary of the Semantic Web and sell a business-oriented audience
    on the idea that applications of the protocols are not only possible,
    but are already in use by companies including Adobe, Hewlett-Packard,
    IBM, Nokia and Oracle.

    Panels at the conference range from "The Semantic Broker as e-Commerce
    Enabler" and "Ontological Semantic Cognitive Data Measurement and
    Business Intelligence." Enterprise and government case studies will
    also be presented.

    The Semantic Web protocols aim to let computers distinguish different
    kinds of data. Armed with those distinctions, applications could more
    automatically trade information, for example between an online address
    book and a cell phone. A Web site could automatically reconfigure
    itself on the fly based on the needs of a particular visitor. Search
    engines could narrow down results with greater precision.

    "This is about connecting the data to its definition and context,"
    said [11]Eric Miller, Semantic Web activity lead for the W3C, in a
    Tuesday [12]keynote address to several hundred conference
    participants. "We're moving from a Web of documents to a Web of data.

    The W3C acknowledges that existing technologies already satisfy some
    of the needs the Semantic Web is designed to fill. One is the
    consortium's XML recommendation for creating highly descriptive and
    computer-friendly mark-up languages. Others lie in rapidly evolving
    database management systems.

    But Berners-Lee and others developing the new technology envision a
    comprehensive shift in the way data is exposed to the Web.

    "When a large enterprise designs lots of database schemas and XML
    schemas, the designers are making arbitrary design choices about
    exactly how to build the system," Berners-Lee said. "These choices
    have no actual connection to the real application, yet they are baked
    into the system. Anyone who uses the data has to know what these
    decisions are."

    Key goals for the Semantic Web architects include reuse of data and
    what backers call "recombinant effects."

    They hope that by letting computers digest and exchange information
    about context and meaning--a word that raises the hackles of
    artificial intelligence critics--they will allow data to survive the
    systems where it originated and traverse different applications as
    easily as browsers traverse the Web's billions of pages today. As that
    data takes on a virtual life of its own, it could be exploited and
    combined in unexpected and unexpectedly profitable ways.

    "The really exciting thing isn't that you can merge your own data
    between applications--that's like links on your own Web site,"
    Berners-Lee said. "The really exciting thing happens when others have
    their data in a mergeable format and make it available. When that
    public information becomes mergeable, we're in for the next, very
    pronounced stage of Web evolution."

    Security worries
    That brave new world of interchangable data--"exposing data hiding in
    documents, servers and databases," in Miller's words--elicits both
    skepticism and alarm from critics of the emerging project.

    One concern is that businesses with a Semantic Web presence may have a
    new headache in preventing information from being unintentionally

    "We don't want to have this universal network of knowledge that makes
    everything accessible to all parties," said the Burton Groups
    O'Kelley. "Companies need to be circumspect about disclosure."

    The W3C, acknowledging concerns about corporate and personal privacy,
    says it plans a Semantic Web rules system for information sharing. The
    consortium is calling for position papers by March 18 for its April
    27-28 [13]workshop on rule languages for interoperability in
    Washington, D.C.

    Even though crucial protocols are still in the idea phase, the W3C is
    insisting that the Web's next big evolutionary shift has already

    The W3C's Miller devoted much of his keynote address--titled "The
    Semantic Web is Here"--to existing examples of Semantic Web
    technologies being developed or rolled out by major companies.

    Nokia, for example, maintains a long-standing [14]Semantic Web
    activity of its own and has made its Semantic Web toolkit, known as
    [15]Wilbur, available on the SourceForge.net open-source development

    Miller hailed the way Nokia has used Semantic Web specifications,
    particularly RDF (Resource Description Framework), in its Series 60
    phones and on its [16]developer forum. In one of Miller's examples,
    RDF metadata, or data about data, let the phones communicate to Web
    sites about how much bandwidth they have. In another, RDF lets Nokia
    automatically serve pages individually tailored for developers of
    particular applications for particular phones.

    Miller also cited other examples: [17]HP's use of Semantic Web
    technologies in its work building an [18]online education resource for
    the government of Singapore; the [19]IBM Internet Technology Group's
    development of Semantic Web applications, especially those in the life
    sciences; Adobe's addition of RDF-based XMP ([20]eXtensible Metadata
    Platform) in its Creative Suite, which Adobe says sits on more than
    700,000 computers; and Oracle's [21]inclusion of the RDF Network Data
    Model in its Oracle Database 10.2, due later in the year.

    Miller also laid out plans to spread the Semantic Web religion. He
    said he plans to ask the W3C membership to endorse a working group
    devoted to Semantic Web education and communication, and he also plans
    a Semantic Web symposium for CTOs and CIOs June 22-24 at a
    yet-to-be-determined West Coast location.

    After years of being called AI throwbacks with their heads in the
    clouds, Semantic Web backers point to these real-world implementations
    with evident satisfaction.

    "The Semantic Web is starting to take off now," said Berners-Lee. "It
    is not yet so developed that (implementers) keep bumping into people
    doing related things yet--we are not yet really seeing the benefit of
    application areas being connected together in unexpected ways. But in
    certain areas, the critical mass has been passed. At the recent
    [22]Semantic Web and life sciences workshop...there was serious
    excitement about the opportunities in integrating across life science
    disciplines, like genomics, proteomics, clinical trail and
    epidemiological data and so on."



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