On Monday, right after the official opening of the event, Giancarlo Guizzardi followed with the talk “An Introduction to Applied Ontology” and opened the technical program of the Summer School.
He started the talk mentioning how he and Michael Uschold talked to a reporter from a local newspaper from Vitória about the event the day before. Being a general (i.e., not specialized) newspaper, Giancarlo and Michael had to translate the research area of ontology to, as he put it, “terms that his own grandmother would understand”.
So Giancarlo started mentioning how BBC organizes their contents using ontologies and, noticing the reporter owned an iPhone, mentioned that ontologies are used in the technology that runs in her phone (Siri). But it was an example from Michael Uschold that really caught the reporter’s attention: if ontologies were used in the financial system back in 2008, maybe the financial crisis could have been avoided. By the way, the Dodd-Frank study description mentions ontologies everywhere as a way of precisely defining the meaning of things in the financial business.
Another big use of ontologies is for government data. Consider transparency: if a company donates money to a political campaign and then gets a contract from a government agency, this is an interesting information to have. Currently, the data is available somewhere, but integrating it to come up with answers to interesting questions in this scenario is really hard, close to impossible.
Giancarlo proceeded to illustrate the usefulness of applied ontologies in four stories. He started with the September 11 attacks on the U.S., which followed with extensive legal discussions on the question if the there was one event or two events that day, because the buildings were insured in US$ 3.5 billion of dollars per event. The legal discussion, which lasted 10 years, very much resembled an ontological discussion.
The second story was about product classification in the U.S. The classification separates dolls (which represent humans) and toys (which do not). When a law firm came across the Marvel X-Men action figures there was a discussion on if they could be classified as representation of humans.
The third story was the PGA vs. Martin case, which ended up at the U.S. Supreme Court. Martin is disabled and wanted to use a cart to move from one hole to another in the field. The law guaranteed that he should be accommodated provided that is does not change the essential nature of the activity — Golf in that matter. PGA thought that using the cart would give him an unfair advantage. Discussion on what the essential nature of Golf was done at length.
The fourth story was about a selfie taken by a monkey during a photo shoot conducted by David Slater. Wikipedia used the picture in one of their articles and David repeatedly asked them to take it down, but Wikipedia refused, arguing that the copyright of the picture, if any, belonged to the monkey. The matter eventually ended up in court, which ruled in favor of Wikipedia.
Giancarlo also mentioned that the FOIS electronic proceedings were stuck at customs under the claims that they were not books, but electronic equipment (the pen drives). What is similar in the stories is that no one disputes the brute facts, but instead what is discussed is how to describe the things that happened.
The objective of Ontological Analysis is to precisely ground signs (words, pictorial signs) to elements in a given worldview, in order to achieve intra-worldview consistency and inter-worldview interoperability. To do this, we need this a prioristic system of categories to address issues of identity, unity, individuation, change, classification, dependence, causality, and many more.
The ontological commitment is unavoidable. The opposite of ontology is not the lack of an ontology, but instead a bad ontology. See, for instance, the example of UML aggregation/composition.
Giancarlo recommended George H. Mealy’s paper “Another look at data” as the first mention of ontologies in research (which was in the area of data modeling).
He finished the talk arguing for the need for interdisciplinary approach for the matter and showing that this was done at the Summer School: linguistics (Nicholas Asher); ontology engineering (Michael Grüninger and Michael Uschold); logics (Renata Wassermann); ontology (as in Metaphysics — Kit Fine); conceptual modeling (Nicola Guarino).
His slides were made available at the summer school’s website.