Welcome!

Big Data Journal Authors: Liz McMillan, Louis Evans, Harry Trott, Dale Kim, Elizabeth White

Related Topics: Cloud Expo, XML, Microservices Journal, Virtualization, Web 2.0, Big Data Journal

Cloud Expo: Article

Semantic Interoperability: The Pot of Gold Under the Rainbow

The problem with semantic interoperability is that human communication is inherently vague, ambiguous, and relative

Our ZapThink 2020 poster lays out our complex web of predictions for enterprise IT in the year 2020. You might think that semantic operability is an important part of this story; after all, several groups have been heads down working on the problem of how to teach computers to agree on the meaning of the information they exchange for years now. But look again: we relegate semantics to the lower right corner, where we point out that we don’t believe there will be much progress in this area by 2020. Eventually, maybe, but even though semantic interoperability appears to be within our grasp, it behaves more like the pot of gold under the rainbow. The closer you get to the rainbow, the farther away it appears.

What gives? ZapThink usually takes an optimistic perspective about the future of technology, but we’re decidedly pessimistic about the prospects for semantic interoperability. The problem as we see it comes down to the human understanding of language. All efforts to standardize meanings in order to facilitate semantic interoperability strip out vagueness and ambiguity from data, and presume a single, universal underlying grammar. After all, isn’t the goal to foster precise, unambiguous, and consistent communication between systems? The problem is, human communication is inherently vague, ambiguous, and relative. The way humans understand the world, the way we think, and the way we put our thoughts into language require both vagueness and ambiguity. Without them, we lose important aspects of meaning. Furthermore, how we structure our language is culturally and linguistically relative. As a result, current semantic interoperability efforts will be able to address a certain class of problems, but in the grand scheme of things, that class of problems is a relatively small subset of the types of communication we would prefer to automate between systems.

The Importance of Vagueness
Ironically, to discuss semantics we must first define our terms. A term is vague when it’s impossible to say whether the term applies in certain circumstances, for example, “my face is red.” Just how red does it have to be before we’re sure it’s red? In contrast, a term is ambiguous when it’s possible to interpret it in more than one way. For example, “I’m going to a bank” might mean that I’m going to a financial institution or to the side of a river.

Vagueness leads to knotty problems in philosophy that impact our ability to provide semantic interoperability. So, let’s go back to philosophy class, and study the sorites paradox. If you have a heap of sand and you take away a single grain, do you still have a heap of sand? Certainly. OK, repeat the process. Clearly, when you get down to a single grain of sand remaining, you no longer have a heap. So, when did the heap cease to be a heap?

Philosophers and linguists have been arguing over how to solve the sorites paradox for over a century now (yes, I know, they should find something more useful to do with their time). One answer: put your foot down and establish a precise boundary. 1,000 or more grains of sand are a heap, but 999 or less are not. Our computers will have no problem with such a resolution to the paradox, but it doesn’t accurately represent what we really mean by a heap. After all, if 1,000 grains constitutes a heap, wouldn’t 999? Central to the meaning of the term “heap” is its inherent vagueness.

Another solution: yes, there is some number of grains of sand where a heap ceases to be a heap, but we can’t know what it is. This resolution might satisfy some philosophers, but it doesn’t help our computers make sense out of our language. A third approach: instead of considering “is a heap” and “isn’t a heap” as the only two possible values, define a spectrum of intermediary values, or perhaps a continuum of values. The computer scientists are likely to be happy with this answer, as it lends itself to fuzzy logic: the statement “this pile of sand is a heap” might be, say, 40% true. Yes, we can do our fuzzy logic math now, but we’ve still lost some fundamental elements of meaning.

To bring back our natural language-based understanding of the sorites paradox, let’s step away from an overly analytical approach to the problem and try to look at the paradox from a human perspective. How, for example, would a seven-year-old describe the heap of sand as you take away a grain of sand at a time? They might answer, “well, it’s a smaller heap” or “it’s kinda a heap” or “it’s a little heap” or “it’s not really a heap,” etc. Such expressions are clearly not precise. Our computers wouldn’t be able to make much sense out of them. But these simple, even childish expressions are how people really speak and how people truly understand vagueness.

The important takeaway here is that vagueness isn’t a property relegated to heaps and blushing faces. It’s a ubiquitous property of virtually all human communication, even within the business context. Take for example an insurance policy. Insurance policies have a number of properties (policy holder, underwriter, insured property, deductible, etc.) and relationships to other business entities (policy application, underwriting documentation, claims forms, etc.) Now let’s add or take away individual properties and relationships from our canonical understanding of an insurance policy one at a time. Is it still a policy? Clearly, if we take away everything that makes a policy a policy then it’s no longer a policy. But if we take away a single property, we’re likely to say it’s still a policy. So where do we draw the line? If philosophers and linguists haven’t solved this problem in over a century, don’t expect your semantic interoperability tool to make much headway either.

The Problem of Linguistic Relativity
Another century-long battle in the world of linguistics is the fray over linguistic relativity vs. linguistic universality. Linguistic relativity is the position that language affects how speakers see their world, and by extension, how they think. In the other corner is Noam Chomsky’s universal grammar, the linguistic theory that grammar is hardwired into the brain, and hence universal across all peoples regardless of their language or their culture. Theoretical work on a universal grammar has led to dramatic advances in natural language translation, and we all get to use and appreciate Google Translate and its brethren as a result. But while Google Translate is a miraculous tool indeed (especially for us Star Trek fans who marveled at the Universal Translator), it doesn’t take a polyglot to realize that the state of the art for such technology still leaves much to be desired.

Linguistic relativity, however, goes at the heart of the semantic interoperability challenge. Take for example, one of today’s most useful semantic standards: the Resource Description Framework (RDF). RDF is a metadata data model intended for making statements about resources (in particular, Web-based resources) in the form of subject-predicate-object expressions. For example, you might be able to express the statement “ZapThink wrote this ZapFlash” in the triplet consisting of “ZapThink” (the subject); “wrote” (the predicate); and “this ZapFlash” (the object). Take this basic triplet building block and you can build semantic webs of arbitrary complexity, with the eventual goal of describing the relationships among all business entities within a particular business context.

The problem with the approach RDF takes, however, is that the subject-predicate-object structure is Eurocentric. Non-European languages (and hence, non-European speakers) don’t necessarily think in sentences that follow this structure. And furthermore, this problem isn’t new. In fact, the research into this phenomenon dates back to the 1940s, with the work of linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf conducted linguistic research among the Hopi and other Native American peoples, and thus established an empirical basis for linguistic relativity. The illustration below comes from one of his seminal papers on the subject:



In the graphic above, Whorf compares a simple sentence, “I clean it with a ramrod,” where “it” refers to a gun, in English and Shawnee. The English sentence predictably follows the subject-predicate-object format that RDF leverages. The Shawnee translation, however, translates literally to “dry space/interior of hole/by motion of tool or instrument.” Not only is there no one-to-one correspondence between parts of speech across the two sentences, but the entire context of the expression is different. If you were in the unenviable position of establishing RDF-based semantic interoperability between, say, a British business and a Shawnee business, you’d find RDF far too culturally specific to rise to the challenge.

The ZapThink Take
We have tools for semantic interoperability today, of course – but all such tools require the human step of configuring or training the tool to understand the properties and relationships among entities. Once you’ve trained the tool, it’s possible to automate many semantic interactions. But to get this process started, we must get together in a room with the people we want to communicate with and hammer out the meanings of the terms we’d like to use.

This human component to semantic interoperability actually dates to the Stone Age. How did we do business in the Stone Age? Say your tribe was on the coast, so you had fish. You were getting tired of fish, so you and your tribemates decided to pack up some fish and bring the bundle to the next village where they had fruit. You showed up at the village market, only you had no common language. So what did you do? You held up some fish, pointed to some fruit, grunted, and waved your hands. If you established a basis of communication, you conducted business, and went home with some fruit. If not, then you went home empty handed (or you pulled out your clubs and attacked, but that’s another story). Cut to the 21st century, and little has changed. People still have to get together and establish a basis of communication as human beings in order to facilitate semantic interoperability. But fully automating such interoperability is as close as the next rainbow.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

@BigDataExpo Stories
A new definition of Big Data & the practical applications of the defined components & associated technical architecture models This presentation introduces a new definition of Big Data, along with the practical applications of the defined components and associated technical architecture models. In his session at Big Data Expo, Tony Shan will start with looking into the concept of Big Data and tracing back the first definition by Doug Laney, and then he will dive deep into the description of 3V...
Why does developer experience matters, what makes for a great developer experience and what is the relationship between developer experience and the broader field of user experience? Software developers are gaining more influence over the purchase decisions of technologies with which they must build on and with which they must integrate. For example, the success of Amazon Web Services, Heroku and MongoDB has been driven primarily by individual software developers choosing to use these tools, ra...
Cloud and Big Data present unique dilemmas: embracing the benefits of these new technologies while maintaining the security of your organization's assets. When an outside party owns, controls and manages your infrastructure and computational resources, how can you be assured that sensitive data remains private and secure? How do you best protect data in mixed use cloud and big data infrastructure sets? Can you still satisfy the full range of reporting, compliance and regulatory requirements? In...
Chuck Piluso will present a study of cloud adoption trends and the power and flexibility of IBM Power and Pureflex cloud solutions. Speaker Bio: Prior to Data Storage Corporation (DSC), Mr. Piluso founded North American Telecommunication Corporation, a facilities-based Competitive Local Exchange Carrier licensed by the Public Service Commission in 10 states, serving as the company's chairman and president from 1997 to 2000. Between 1990 and 1997, Mr. Piluso served as chairman & founder of ...
To manage complex web services with lots of calls to the cloud, many businesses have invested in Application Performance Management (APM) and Network Performance Management (NPM) tools. Together APM and NPM tools are essential aids in improving a business's infrastructure required to support an effective web experience... but they are missing a critical component - Internet visibility. Internet connectivity has always played a role in customer access to web presence, but in the past few years u...
The Internet of Things Maturity Model (IoTMM) is a qualitative method to gauge the growth and increasing impact of IoT capabilities in an IT environment from both a business and technology perspective. In his session at @ThingsExpo, Tony Shan will first scan the IoT landscape and investigate the major challenges and barriers. The key areas of consideration are identified to get started with IoT journey. He will then pinpoint the need of a tool for effective IoT adoption and implementation, whic...
Working with Big Data is challenging, especially when decision makers depend on market insights and intelligence from your data but don't have quick access to it or find it unusable. In their session at 6th Big Data Expo, Ian Khan, Global Strategic Positioning & Brand Manager at Solgenia; Zel Bianco, President, CEO and Co-Founder of Interactive Edge of Solgenia; and Ermanno Bonifazi, CEO & Founder at Solgenia, discussed how a revolutionary cloud-based BI along with mobile analytics is already c...
Software is eating the world. Companies that were not previously in the technology space now find themselves competing with Google and Amazon on speed of innovation. As the innovation cycle accelerates, companies must embrace rapid and constant change to both applications and their infrastructure, and find a way to deliver speed and agility of development without sacrificing reliability or efficiency of operations. In her Day 2 Keynote DevOps Summit, Victoria Livschitz, CEO of Qubell, discussed...
More organizations are embracing DevOps to realize compelling business benefits such as more frequent feature releases, increased application stability, and more productive resource utilization. However, security and compliance monitoring tools have not kept up and often represent the single largest remaining hurdle to continuous delivery. In their session at DevOps Summit, Justin Criswell, Senior Sales Engineer at Alert Logic, Ricardo Lupo, a Solution Architect with Chef, will discuss how to ...
What exactly is a cognitive application? In her session at 16th Cloud Expo, Ashley Hathaway, Product Manager at IBM Watson, will look at the services being offered by the IBM Watson Developer Cloud and what that means for developers and Big Data. She'll explore how IBM Watson and its partnerships will continue to grow and help define what it means to be a cognitive service, as well as take a look at the offerings on Bluemix. She will also check out how Watson and the Alchemy API team up to off...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Site24x7, the cloud infrastructure monitoring service, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Site24x7 is a cloud infrastructure monitoring service that helps monitor the uptime and performance of websites, online applications, servers, mobile websites and custom APIs. The monitoring is done from 50+ locations across the world and from various wireless carr...
The Workspace-as-a-Service (WaaS) market will grow to $6.4B by 2018. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Seth Bostock, CEO of IndependenceIT, will begin by walking the audience through the evolution of Workspace as-a-Service, where it is now vs. where it going. To look beyond the desktop we must understand exactly what WaaS is, who the users are, and where it is going in the future. IT departments, ISVs and service providers must look to workflow and automation capabilities to adapt to growing ...
SYS-CON Events announced today that SafeLogic has been named “Bag Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. SafeLogic provides security products for applications in mobile and server/appliance environments. SafeLogic’s flagship product CryptoComply is a FIPS 140-2 validated cryptographic engine designed to secure data on servers, workstations, appliances, mobile devices, and in the Cloud....
SYS-CON Events announced today that Akana, formerly SOA Software, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo® New York, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Akana’s comprehensive suite of API Management, API Security, Integrated SOA Governance, and Cloud Integration solutions helps businesses accelerate digital transformation by securely extending their reach across multiple channels – mobile, cloud and Internet of Thi...
In his session at DevOps Summit, Tapabrata Pal, Director of Enterprise Architecture at Capital One, will tell a story about how Capital One has embraced Agile and DevOps Security practices across the Enterprise – driven by Enterprise Architecture; bringing in Development, Operations and Information Security organizations together. Capital Ones DevOpsSec practice is based upon three "pillars" – Shift-Left, Automate Everything, Dashboard Everything. Within about three years, from 100% waterfall, C...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Open Data Centers (ODC), a carrier-neutral colocation provider, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Open Data Centers is a carrier-neutral data center operator in New Jersey and New York City offering alternative connectivity options for carriers, service providers and enterprise customers.
Thanks to Docker, it becomes very easy to leverage containers to build, ship, and run any Linux application on any kind of infrastructure. Docker is particularly helpful for microservice architectures because their successful implementation relies on a fast, efficient deployment mechanism – which is precisely one of the features of Docker. Microservice architectures are therefore becoming more popular, and are increasingly seen as an interesting option even for smaller projects, instead of bein...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Dyn, the worldwide leader in Internet Performance, will exhibit at SYS-CON's 16th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Dyn is a cloud-based Internet Performance company. Dyn helps companies monitor, control, and optimize online infrastructure for an exceptional end-user experience. Through a world-class network and unrivaled, objective intelligence into Internet conditions, Dyn ensures...
DevOps tends to focus on the relationship between Dev and Ops, putting an emphasis on the ops and application infrastructure. But that’s changing with microservices architectures. In her session at DevOps Summit, Lori MacVittie, Evangelist for F5 Networks, will focus on how microservices are changing the underlying architectures needed to scale, secure and deliver applications based on highly distributed (micro) services and why that means an expansion into “the network” for DevOps.
BlueBox bridge the chasm between development and infrastructure. Hosting providers are taking standardization and automation too far. For many app developers it does nothing but spawn mayhem and more work. They have to figure out how their creations live on a pre-fab infrastructure solution full of constraints. Operations-as-a-Service is what BlueBox does. BlueBox utilizes development tools such as OpenStack, EMC Razor, Opscode’s Chef and BlueBox's proprietary tools give the power to do the unor...