Some ideas about what the Semantic Web will look like in 2022

Research into realizing a vision of the Semantic Web has been ongoing for little over 10 years, and a call has gone out to ponder, daydream, fantasize, think wishfully or with fear about “What will the Semantic Web look like 10 years from now?” (SW2022). A selection of the many ideas will be presented on November 11, 2012, at the SW2022 workshop, held in conjunction with the 11th International Semantic Web Conference (ISWC’12) in Boston, USA.

For the curious: all SW2022 papers that will be presented are online on the SW2022 page (scroll down to about half-way on the web page for the programme). I picked out a few that I will summarise and comment on below; my selection is based on topic and/or author(s) and/or curious title, and I am a co-author of one of the papers.

Abraham Bernstein will present the first main paper [1], on the “global brain Semantic Web”, where the Internet is going to serve as the analogue to a brain’s neurons. The ‘global brain’ is used as a metaphor (or revamped old-fashioned AI?) for “distributed interleaved human-machine computation”, or, in fancier, more marketable, terms, now also called “collective intelligence” and “social computing”. In short: put the human in the Semantic Web, both as part of the knowledge provider and as educated user. Bernstein zooms in on the need to be able to manage the “motivational diversity, cognitive diversity, and error diversity” with respect to the possibility of realizing this global brain Semantic Web. Alessandro Oltramari’s vision for a cognitive Semantic Web [2] is quite similar to Bernstein’s one, where the semantic web is tuned to the individual user and “it will be an emergent social network of human and artificial cognitive agents interacting in a hybrid environment, where the distinction between physical and virtual will be superseded by the very nature of the entities populating it, namely knowledge objects and knowledge agents” [2]. Compared to these, our vision of interoperability is somewhat more humble.

Oliver Kutz will present our paper [3] about interoperability among ontologies, to be realized with the Distributed Ontology Language (DOL) that is currently in the process of standardisation at ISO (scheduled to be finalized by 2015). DOL is a metalanguage for distributed ontologies that may be represented in different ontology languages (some of the technical details can be found in a recent paper that won the best paper award at FOIS’12 [4] and a few examples are described in [5]). Overall then, it would be nice if, by 2022, we have solved the interoperability issues not only among data, but also the ‘models’ (ontologies, services descriptions etc.) and, especially, their logic-based representation languages. For instance, being able to seamlessly link knowledge that is represented partially in OWL 2 DL and partially in an ontology represented in Common Logic or leaving an OBO ontology like that yet declare more semantics (e.g., cardinality constraints, property chains) ‘around’ it in a more expressive language for those who need it, and advanced features for modularization, which are all realistic usage scenarios with the DOL. Clearly, all this will need some tool support. Initial tools do exist—Hets for reasoning over heterogeneous ontologies and the Ontohub ontology repository—but more can and will have to be done to realize full interoperability.

The paper on the Semantic Web needs (vision?) for cultural heritage [6] offers nothing I did not already know. South Africa has its own programme in that area—albeit called “indigenous knowledge management”, not “cultural heritage”—and we did our own requirements analysis some time ago already [7, 8]. Our list of requirements lists matches the one by Vavliakis et al., and we have a technology maturity analysis, a set of OWL requirements, and actual use cases from the domain experts and users of the Department of Science & technology’s National Recordal System project for indigenous knowledge management (about which I blogged before). That the topics will receive attention also at SW2022 hopefully increases the chance that those requirements will be investigated further, solved, and realized, which, in turn, will improve the software developed here and, ultimately, the people will benefit from it all.

Mutharaju [9] emphasizes on the need for connectivity, personalization and abstraction. Regarding the latter, he notes that “There would be a need to provide multiple (and higher) levels of abstractions and facilitate drill-down mechanisms.” yey! maybe my work on granularity (among others, [10]) will find its way into implementations after all. Also, Mutharaju thinks that the Semantic Web may be of use for the benefit of the environment (e.g., calculating better traffic flow, using sensor data etc.).

A short paper scheduled for the panel session is entitled “The rise of the verb” [11], which I found a curious title: verbs are taken into account already, where a verb’s ontological foundation is, in the Semantic Web context, represented as an object property in OWL or reified under, say, DOLCE’s Perdurant. Considering the contents of the paper, a more suitable title with respect to the contents could have been “action in the Semantic Web”: the paper’s introduction suggests adding something executable to the semantic web by means of JavaScript but where the instruction is specified at the knowledge level. Heiko Paulheim and Jeff Pan also want some language extensions: they argue in favour of language extensions, so as to be able to handle imprecision/uncertainty in particular [12].

Vander Sande and co-authors present a rather bleak vision of the Semantic Web [13], in that it could endanger humanity. They spend the full 6 pages on highlighting the myriad of dangers and the possible misuses of Semantic Web technologies. Among others: ‘semantic spam’ instead of the dumb variety we have gotten used to, where spammers take advantage of the Linked Open Data cloud and otherwise linked social network data to make the spam look more believable; polluting the LOD cloud through link spoofing; identity theft and provenance manipulation; and the Web of Things for autonomous computerized weaponry. One also could have added a follow-through of the saying that ‘knowledge is power’, where better and scaled-up knowledge management facilitates obtaining more power (and power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely). All this, in turn, goes back to the philosophical issues regarding responsibility in research, engineering, and technology and whether some field is inherently bad, neutral, or good, or whether the bad pops up only with some application scenarios where the technologies could possibly be used. For the Semantic Web, I think it is only the latter, but you may try to convince me otherwise.

Although I won’t be attending, it’s appreciated that the papers are online already, and I can imagine there will be some lively discussions at the SW2022 workshop.


[1] Abraham Bernstein. The Global Brain Semantic Web – Interleaving Human-Machine Knowledge and Computation. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[2] Alessandro Oltramari. Enabling the cognitive Semantic Web. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[3] Oliver Kutz, Christoph Lange, Till Mossakowski, C. Maria Keet, Fabian Neuhaus, Michael Grüninger. The Babel of Semantic Web tongues – in search of the Rosetta Stone of interoperability. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[4] Till Mossakowski, Christoph Lange, Oliver Kutz. Three Semantics for the Core of the Distributed Ontology Language. In Michael Gruninger (Ed.), FOIS 2012: 7th International Conference on Formal Ontology in Information Systems, Graz, Austria.

[5] Christoph Lange, Till Mossakowski, Oliver Kutz, Christian Galinski, Michael Grüninger, Daniel Couto Vale. The Distributed Ontology Language (DOL): Use Cases, Syntax, and Extensibility, Terminology and Knowledge Engineering Conference (TKE’12). Madrid, Spain.

[6] Konstantinos N. Vavliakis, Georgios Th. Karagiannis and Pericles A. Mitkas. Semantic Web in Cultural heritage after 2020. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[7] Thomas Fogwill, Ronell Alberts, C. Maria Keet. The potential for use of semantic web technologies in IK management systems. IST-Africa Conference 2012. May 9-11, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

[8] Ronell Alberts, Thomas Fogwill, C. Maria Keet. Several Required OWL Features for Indigenous Knowledge Management Systems. 7th Workshop on OWL: Experiences and Directions (OWLED 2012). 27-28 May, Heraklion, Crete, Greece. CEUR-WS Vol-849. 12p.

[9] Raghava Mutharaju. How I would like Semantic Web to be, for my children. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[10] C. Maria Keet. A formal theory of granularity. PhD Thesis, KRDB Research Centre, Faculty of Computer Science, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano, Italy. 2008.

[11] Paul Groth. The rise of the verb. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[12] Heiko Paulheim and Jeff Z. Pan. Why the Semantic Web should become more imprecise. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.

[13] Miel Vander Sande, Sam Coppens, Davy Van Deursen, Erik Mannens and Rik Van De Walle. The terminator’s origins or how the Semantic Web could endanger humanity. SW2022, Boston, Nov 11, 2012.


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