Wednesday, October 27, 2004

TBL Keynote at W3C Semantic Web in Life Sciences Workshop

Tim Berners-Lee presented the keynote at the W3C Semantic Web in Life Sciences Workshop, held in Cambridge, MA. The workshop agenda is here. Tim's slides are here.

True to form, Sir Tim ensured that everyone present understood that they should all use URIs for everything. I wonder what his sock drawer looks like. His example was to define a URI for a concept like "colour". He also railed against software patents (who doesn't??) and pushed SVG as a standards-based replacement for PDF.

The problem with using SVG is, of course, that Adobe Acrobat is free and works, while SVG still relies on (often poorly implemented) browser plug-ins. Similarly, the Semantic Web suffers from a lack of applications which absorb and produce RDF. Only time and effort can change that. At least we are seeing progress in academia, the open source community and the commercial market.

Tim was asked where to find a browser for the Semantic Web (again). The difference this year is that there is starting to be a good answer to that question. Have a look at (Longwell) and (Haystack. He also pointed to ( Ontaria, which is more of a directory than a browser. Haystack is slow, but quite cool. I haven't downloaded Longwell, yet. Ontaria needs input.

One of the life sciences guys (Bob Robbins from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center) asked Tim about using semantic techniques for both descriptive data ("What is this plant in my backyard?") versus active research ("What are the opinions in the community about how this plant may be used?"). I don't think his answer was great (summary: This is an exciting area of research), but there is a good answer. Jim Hendler likes to make the point that the difference between OWL and traditional AI data descriptions is that OWL allows (indeed, encourages) differences of opinion. The Web Ontology Working Group admitted this user requirement up front, which is anathema to traditional AI. Add Jen Golbeck's work on trust descriptions and I think we are getting there.

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