I find it quite clearly noticeable that ontology reasoning is slowly making its way into mainstream. I begin seeing more and more applications – and industry investigations – picking up ontology reasoning in a matter-of-fact way. It seems that the bickering between scientists whether ontology reasoning is needed and/or useful is simply ignored when it’s about applications. And I very much welcome this. The “why” question is no longer important. In fact, even the “how” question isn’t. It’s being used – although sometimes perhaps not in an entirely conscious way, or in a way in which traditional reasoning applications would have been set up. And I very much welcome this as well.
I’m not talking about the fact that 2 out of 3 shortlisted papers for the best paper award at ISWC2010 are reasoning papers (which continues an established trend) – the winner has not been announced yet, there’s one day of the conference still ahead. Rather, I found it noticeable that reasoning prominently popped up in the first in-use-track session (and that wasn’t artificially arranged – in fact the first session was on life sciences applications). Another, less obvious case in point was the excellent keynote given by Evan Sandhaus on how nytimes.com utilizes semantic technologies. Among other things, they used GeoNames for inferring that news from Rome are also news from Italy, and they used Freebase for equating different identifiers for entities (in this case, politicians). Both of these were not explicitly executed or identified as reasoning steps, but this is only a matter of algorithmization. Conceptually, this is ontology reasoning at its simple best: The derivation of implicit knowledge by automated deductive means is reasoning, whether you are aware of it or not.
Talking about applications – Tania Tudorache from Stanford Biomedical presented the ongoing work on ICD-11, which centrally utilizes WebProtege and OWL. I think that this work is completely underappreciated by the Semantic Web community, perhaps because they are not aware of the impact of this. The ICD classification of diseases is the world-wide manual for medical diagnostics, which means that Semantic Technologies – in a rather invisible manner, as it should be – result in something which will be used by millions of physicians world-wide in their everyday work life. That’s what I call dissemination into practice!
By the way – in the context of such trends, it strikes me as oddly outdated to hear panel comments like “OWL still needs to show its worth – what can it do what you cannot do with rules?” It’s about time we stop bickering and pushing our pet paradigms and simply make things work and improve. (And no, I didn’t bother to comment during the panel. A discussion like this is futile, and I think more and more people are realizing this now anyway.)
Another keynote, by mc schraefel, very nicely also put applications into perspective. And highlighted some of the shortcomings of the currently hyped Linked Data. (Don’t get me wrong – Linked Data is extremely necessary for the Semantic Web on several accounts, but there are indeed lot of issues with it which we need to face.) Interestingly, the reactions I heard were mixed – but in an unexpected way. On the one hand, there was wide positive reaction that this was an excellent keynote with a very important message (which is also my take). On the other hand, I heard voices saying that we already know these and other problems with Linked Data, so there wasn’t really any useful content in the talk. I’m rather happy, though, that I didn’t hear anybody disagree with the general message.
Another very notable presentation, as part of the Semantic Web Challenge, was by Deborah McGuinness, on the data.gov work at RPI. The scope of dissemination is simply impressive, and another milestone in the making of the Semantic Web.
What else? The Semantic Web journal‘s first Editorial Board meeting took place at the conference (the first issue will be out shortly). My showcase volume of our book was not stolen this time. And there were a considerable number of very interesting-looking papers in the reasoning sessions – all of which I regretfully missed because I was tied up in parallel events. I’m looking forward to reading the papers, though.
On the culinary side, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed. Actually, the food was very good, but at previous conferences I’ve visited in China, it was much more exotic (from a European perspective, anyway) – perhaps the reason for this was that these other events I’ve been to were mainly Chinese, with only a few international guests. And, certainly, the cuisine was not at all as bad as the internet connection at the conference center. But we’ve already become very accustomed to having Semantic Web conferences with too little bandwidth, so it’s kind of expected anyway.
[Author: Pascal Hitzler]