right now its only a notion, but…

June 5th, 2007

I saw this quote in one of Maureen Dowd’s columns recently. The context was politics, but it’s such a great quote because it applies to some many things, doing research among them.

“Right now it’s only a notion, but I think I can get money to make it into a concept … and later turn it into an idea.”

The line is from the movie Annie Hall and is spoken by a screenwriter at a Hollywood party who is talking with two of his colleagues.

If RDF is the new KIF then SPARQL must be the new KQML

June 3rd, 2007

HAL 9000

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away … the DARPA knowledge sharing effort developed an approach to interoperability and agent communication based on a three components: KIF as an expressive but neutral language for encoding knowledge, shared ontologies for capturing domain concepts and relations, and KQML as a language and protocol for system interaction. Maybe it’s better to think of it as a software design pattern rather than an approach. Although the original KSE push failed to ignite the explosive spread of intelligent agents across the Internet that some of us imagined, it has been reused by many multiagent systems frameworks, including FIPA, CoABS, Cougaar and others. Like other classic software patterns, such as MVC, is simple and intuitive and easy to implement and follow.

The RDF approach to realizing the Semantic Web addresses several of the problems that undermined those of the KSE, FIPA and others. Here are three that come first to my mind. (1) The KSE, and to a lesser degree the other frameworks, never had a good way to bind terms to ontologies. The RDF approach of using URIs and namespaces solves this nicely. (2) By grounding everything in the Web via URIs, the RDF approach also solves many problems in building distributed knowledge based systems without having to create a new middleware infrastructure and get everyone to adopt it. (3) Choosing an underlying graph representation for knowledge (RDF) has its advantages and disadvantages, but makes it easy for developers outside the AI KB community to implement, use and map to their legacy representations.

I see RDF and OWL as providing, in a well integrated way, the first two components of the pattern, but what of the third? KQML as first proposed by Gio Weiderhold as the Knowledge Query and Manipulation Language. It was based on a set of standard message types (e.g., ASK and TELL) with associated semantics and protocols. I suggest that the Semantic Web needs a KQML and propose that we build on SPARQL to make it.

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Google adds timeline and map views for search results

June 1st, 2007

Google has a new search idea that lays out results on a timeline or a map. In their page on experimental search features they say

“See results on a timeline or map. With the timeline and map views, Google’s technology extracts key dates and locations from select search results so you can view the information in a different dimension. Timeline and map views work best for searches related to people, companies, events and places.”

The syntax to see your query results on a timeline or map is simple and intuitive, just include a qualifier view:timeline or view:map. If you include both you don’t get a 4D temporal-spacial view (you wish!) but get the timeline view. The timeline view includes a simple widget that shows the relative results laid out on the timeline. Clicking on a part of the line jumps to the appropriate results. In the map view, results are place on a Google map. Check out the results of a search for “semantic web” using the timeline or map views.

Google timeline view for semantic web

Here are some things we noticed about the time and map views.

  • Only a few results are returned. For example, a search on “semantic web” normally returns over 19M results, but the time and map views show just over 40. Google finds 171M results for Iraq, but will only show around 60 in the time and map views. Since this is an experimental feature, it may be that the number of results will be increased if it makes it out of the lab.
  • There’s still a semantic gap. While Google has introduced a useful feature, the relationship between the search topic and the dates and places is still not refined. The time, for example, is not the time the Web document was published, but a time that appears somewhere in the document. I suspect, but have not tried to verify, that the time or place reference has to be close to the search term. Even so, there may be no relationship between them and, if there is, we are not sure what it is. Of course, refining this will be computationally expensive and probably not appropriate for a general, Web-scale search engine.
  • The timeline and map views only work on the main search and not on news, blogs, images, etc.

These are great features and I hope that they are improved and make it into regular service.