Thursday, December 08, 2011

Semantic Web is NOT for machines to understand !!!

Quite shocking title - isn't it?

First — a word of explanation: I used to write here reviews of books that I read. But I'm also a businessman and, still, a scientist... Recently mostly computer scientists doing my mostly private research in Computer Sciences.

And on my trip to nearby Warsaw, for our conference for investors and media, I woke up in a hotel and suddenly an idea came to my mind that shakes the common understanding or interpretation of what Semantic Web is about. This was quite troublesome at that morning, as my conference had the title „Semantic Web for business”.

Traditionally, people in the field speak about „Machine Understanding” (like in the Wikipedia Semantic Web definition: „The Semantic Web, as originally envisioned, is a system that enables machines to "understand" ....). When machines are about to "understand" we come close to all these AI tales and predictions about machine intelligence and machine consciousness ...

It suddenly came to me, that, we, who care about Semantic Web, make a great harm to this fantastic field just by purporting that it will enable machines to understand.

Even if we put aside the dispute what exactly is this "understanding", it is clear that with all great achievements, we are very very far from the intelligent machines, AI, machine understanding etc. I know I will anger AI proponents, but there is quite common conviction that we are very far from any "understanding" on part of machines.

Semantic Web does not enable MACHINES to understand — it enables US, HUMANS to cope with vast sea of information (and the ground of data) and, in turn, TO UNDERSTAND the meaning of the data on the Web (and soon — everywhere). It does so by providing tools and techniques and specific frames and paradigms that enable PEOPLE to extract and UNDERSTAND, the MEANING of the information on the Web.

I know that this is nothing more but an interpretation and only a bit different point of view. I know, that when Tim Berners Lee spoke about "understanding" he used it in somehow metaphorical way. But I also know that many people today started to use this "understanding" in more literal sense, and that makes a big confusion in human minds, causing harm to this fantastic area of Computer Science...

So I will start making difference. Semantic Web is not for machines to understand, is for us to comprehend the meaning of the vast sea of information that form today's Web.

Written in Warsaw, 7.49, December 8, 2011


  1. Anonymous5:15 AM

    I have written quite a few response posts on the JOHO blog about attributing more to computers than should be attributed to them.

    As machines, they are capable of performing amazing feats of memory and calculation but they are not and never will be - Conscious.

    I see the same danger of literalizing metaphor that I see in fundamentalist religious beliefs.

    The computer is a tool in the service of human consciousness and its evolution toward omnisience. Art is the representation of that Evolution. Nature is the manifestation of Cosmic Evolution.

    Because you have read so widely in so many disparate areas you are able to see that the computer although extremely adept at representing rational knowledge, is incapable of omniscience because it can not know through Imagination, Intuition, or Nature.

    Because you are a spiritual man you know that the computer is incapable of yoga, prayer, enlightenment, or synchronicity.

    Human Consciousness is the wonder.

    What is called 'Artificial Intelligence' is a capacity for reasoning which has been programmed by human consciousness into a machine. The mistake of Modernism is that it fell in love with Reason to the exclusion of Sprit, Nature, and Imagination.

    Because Spirit, Nature, and Imagination are so important in your life, you realize that any Artificial Intelligence is partial, Incomplete, limited.

    The worship of Artificial Intelligence leads to the creation of temples like Dubai where only Human Reason is present. The proliferation and hegemony of Human Reason alone through the worship of mere Artificial Intelligence diminishes the wonder and beauty of human consciousness by transforming everything that exists into a code of representation. The codification of the Universe is the glorification of Reason. Descartes "I think, therefore, I am" has been fulfilled.

    The AI movement seems to be saying, "Because I can represent it in code, I am intelligent". My understanding of intelligence goes far beyond this rational simplification. And I would not even grant computers the ability to "think" rationally.

    Human beings have thought rationally and programmed machines to replicate certain human mental processes. And the replication of these functions IS very important. Computers do amazing things and like other machines they greatly enhance inherent human capacities. But they are incapable of creating these capacities within themselves without the human programmer.

    The quest is not for Modern Science to transform Nature, Spirit, Imagination, and Human Consciousness into Reason or Code alone. The quest is Omniscience, Omni Science, the Science of all.

    The goal is a Unitive Consciousness that includes a harmonizing of Rational, Natural, Imaginative, and Intuitive (spiritual) ways of knowing.

    Human consciousness is a center capable of this Unitive Consciousness which has been achieved throughout human history by Sages, Saints, Monks, Adepts, Artists, lay practitioners.

    This post and your realizations are extremely important insights!

    Raymond Harrison

  2. Thanks Raymond,

    I agree, and the sudden realization that we, people who are working in the field, make so often such misleading statements like "for machines to understand" led me to this post.

    And even if we know that this "to understand" has no more than a sort of parabolic meaning, we should avoid it, as it creates totaly distorted picture what Semantic Web is.

    There is a very good book on the topic, "Thinking on the Web - Berners-Lee, Godel & Turing", that addresses these matters deeply. It, in fact shows, deep limitations of ANY computing, even in the field of logic and mathematics. It seems we knew it for years, yet we tend to forget it so often...

    On the opposite pole is the another book „Apocalyptic AI” by Robert M. Geraci, which attributes some religious significance to AI. But at this moment I must restrain myself from criticizing it - must read it from cover to cover first ...

  3. Anonymous5:22 PM

    "Thinking on the web"....

  4. I have found very interesting paragraph in one of the most important recent books about SW: "Foundations of Semantic Web Technologies" (Hitzler,Krotzsch,Rudolph).
    The authors expressed exactly what I wrote about in this post:

    "One of the major misconceptions regarding the Semantic Web is the belief that semantic technologies enable computers to truly understand complex concepts such as "person". The unambiguous assignment of URI indeed allows us to refer to such concepts, and to use them in a multitude of semantic relationships - actually comprehending the contents of the encoded statements, however, is still the task of the human user"

    This represents exactly my view...