21.089 the Semantic Web and humanities computing

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>
Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 06:23:16 +0100

                Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 89.
       Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                     Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

   [1] From: Michele Pasin <m.pasin_at_open.ac.uk> (107)
         Subject: Re: 21.080 The Semantic Web and Humanties Computing?

   [2] From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris_at_acm.org> (55)
         Subject: Re: 21.080 The Semantic Web and Humanties Computing?

         Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 06:14:17 +0100
         From: Michele Pasin <m.pasin_at_open.ac.uk>
         Subject: Re: 21.080 The Semantic Web and Humanties Computing?

Hi Ryan,

I think you're right when you see an intersection between Humanities
Computing and Semantic Web. And I am sure there are people who's been
carrying out work in one of the two areas, keeping an eye on the other

The idea of a "semantic" web, where the hyperlink could be substituted
and/or augmented by a semantic-link is a very ambitious one.
Consequently, a large number of problems make this vision difficult to
implement, or just hard to pursue to the point the large web-public
would say "that's new" (or even better.. "that's useful").

As a semantic-web phd-student, with a background in the humanities
(specifically, in philosophy of language), I am by nature skeptic about
any easy-solution claimed by computer scientists about computers able to
"do our job". There are too many SW problems which suspiciously resemble
the still unresolved old-AI problems (knowledge acquisition, common
sense knowledge representation, etc. [1]). So, without delving too much
into the discussion, I just would try to be fair and provide the reader
with two pointers, one [2] to a well know critique of the SW, and a
second to [3] an amazing project which is potentially revolutionary for
the SW, as it attempts to "export" the whole wikipedia into a
machine-readable (= SW) format.

Having said that, I confess that I would like to see more humanities'
literate helping bringing the SW vision into a more feasible one, by
changing the actual machine-centered approach (which is too often
related to an old-AI paradigm) to a more human-centered one! Curiously,
if you just read the first lines of the Text Encoding Initiative specs
[4], you'll find similarities between these and the SW, in terms of the
mission they are pursuing: They [i.e. the TEI guidelines] provide means
of representing those features of a text which need to be identified
explicitly in order to facilitate processing of the text by computer

and in terms of means being used: The process of inserting such explicit
markers for implicit textual features is often called `markup',
`encoding', or `tagging', and the term encoding scheme or markup
language denotes the rules which govern the use of markup in a set of

So why do the two communities not collaborate, if they (in my humble
opinion) share this exciting idea of a world-wide data-interoperability?

Many thanks,

Michele Pasin

[1] http://www.ibiblio.org/hhalpin/homepage/publications/html/airedux/
[2] http://www.shirky.com/writings/ontology_overrated.html
[3] http://dbpedia.org/docs/
[4] http://www.tei-c.org/P4X/AB.html

On 6 Jun 2007, at 12:39, Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard
McCarty <willard.mccarty_at_kcl.ac.uk>) wrote:

                 Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 21, No. 80.
        Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London
                      Submit to: humanist_at_princeton.edu

          Date: Wed, 06 Jun 2007 11:55:15 +0100
          From: Ryan Deschamps <Ryan.Deschamps_at_Dal.Ca>


I am interested in hearing responses from the list regarding the so-called
"semantic web" and its related buzzword "metaweb" and "Web 3.0."

If I may try to precis the acronym-laden wikipedia article, Semantic Web refers
to the design of rich information sites by exploiting web 2.0/social web

A popular example of this is Freebase (www.freebase.com) which is attempting to
cross-link all sorts of data from around the world using social softwares such
as Wikipedia.

There are a few recent tech developments that has me thinking about
the semantic
web as a discussion piece for Humanist.

1. Screen monitors that fold like paper:

2. Microsoft's "surface computer":

3. Photosynth technology:

Take these three technologies and add them to a "freebase-ish" datasource and
you could conceivably have a mind-blowing experience.

Imagine, if you will, a paper-based product that uses a multi-touch
interface. You could have an electronic device that works pretty
much like a book with the
ability to "turn pages" with the fingers and re-size the screen to suit vision

Using the photosynth technology, you could make a large number of
text resources
available in a small page. But it could be more than that. Imagine a
footnote in a work that is, in fact, also a microscopic copy of the entire work
being cited (highlighting the quoted or referred to text of course).
Wikipedia articles could be included to help with word definitions and basic
context for historical references in a work. And (to take the Notre Dame
example from the Photosynth video), someone could have a virtual tour of the
Notre Dame Cathedral to go along with Hugo's story about the Hunchback.

These ideas are nothing short of what has been projected for the future
thousands of times before, but the development of these technologies appears to
be making them that much closer to a reality. Also, the "how" and the "why"
of the ideas are far more intricate and (I hope) interesting.

Of course, I would like to leave the intricate part to your readers. :)


Ryan Deschamps BA (English) MLIS, MPA


Michele Pasin
Phd Student
Knowledge Media Institute
The Open University
Walton Hall
Milton Keynes
United Kingdom

Tel: 01908 858730
Email: m.pasin_at_open.ac.uk
< www.kmi.open.ac.uk/people/mikele >

         Date: Mon, 11 Jun 2007 06:15:11 +0100
         From: Mary Dee Harris <mdharris_at_acm.org>
         Subject: Re: 21.080 The Semantic Web and Humanties Computing?

I think Ryan has missed the point of the semantic web. While the
technologies he mentions could be used well in Humanities Computing,
I don't see any connection to the semantic web. It is a software
approach, not hardware. It would be more appropriate to think of it
as an extension of the existing markup languages, esp. XML, with a
lot of extra bells and whistles.
Here's the overview of the article in Wikipedia:
     The *semantic web* is an evolving extension of the World Wide Web
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web> in which web content
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_content> can be expressed not only
     in natural language <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_language>,
     but also in a form that can be understood, interpreted and used by
     software agents <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Software_agent>, thus
     permitting them to find, share and integrate
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_integration> information more
     easily.^[1] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web#_note-0> It
     derives from W3C
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Wide_Web_Consortium> director
     Tim Berners-Lee <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tim_Berners-Lee>'s
     vision of the Web as a universal medium for data
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data>, information
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Information>, and knowledge
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Knowledge> exchange.

     At its core, the semantic web comprises a philosophy,^[2]
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web#_note-1> a set of design
     principles,^[3] <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web#_note-2>
     collaborative working groups
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Working_groups>, and a variety of
     enabling technologies. Some elements of the semantic web are
     expressed as prospective future possibilities that have yet to be
     implemented or realized.^[4]
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web#_note-3> Other elements
     of the semantic web are expressed in formal specifications.^[5]
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semantic_web#_note-4> Some of these
     include Resource Description Framework
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_Description_Framework> (RDF),
     a variety of data interchange formats (e.g. RDF/XML
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Resource_Description_Framework>, N3
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Notation_3>, Turtle
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Turtle_%28syntax%29>, N-Triples
     and notations such as RDF Schema
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/RDF_Schema> (RDFS) and the Web
     Ontology Language
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Web_Ontology_Language> (OWL). All of
     which are intended to formally describe
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Description_logic> concepts
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concept>, terms
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Terminology>, and relationships
     <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Causality> within a given knowledge

There is considerable disagreement whether the semantic web will ever
exist in the same sense that the World Wide Web does, but it has
provided an interesting forum for discussion of its concepts and
potential uses.
Received on Mon Jun 11 2007 - 02:01:13 EDT

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