Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Letter in response to "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense" -- NY Times

Here's a letter I wrote with Andrew Smith in response to the article below (which was never published):
We read with great interest John Markoff's 11/12/2006 article "Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense." We agree with the excitement surrounding the emerging Web 3.0 but we feel that the article did not go enough into the controversy between today's highly unstructured version of the web, where documents are essentially disseminated in natural language free-text lightly marked up with HTML for display, and the more recent and contrasting semantic web being propelled by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) which allows web information to be expressed and cross-referenced in fine-grained structured ways so applications can more readily and precisely extract key facts and information without having to worry about disambiguating meaning from natural language texts as is necessary in the current web. The article seemed mostly to suggest that the new Web 3.0 would emerge primarily from complex data mining of the current web to extract important entities (people, businesses, places, etc.) and relationships among them. Unfortunately, this problem is very difficult and is basically the artificial intelligence problem that many researchers have been working hard on for a long time with limited progress. This fact that it is extremely difficult to automatically extract fine-grained data, information, and relationships from today's web (and the best we can practically do is to support coarse-grained topical queries with search engines) is one of the primary motivations of the semantic web. It is noteworthy that the perfect, personalized "travel agent" scenario given in Markoff's article was basically the same as the primary running example from a 2001 Scientific American article by Tim Berners-Lee (the inventor of the web and semantic web) which introduced the semantic web to a wider audience.
Entrepreneurs See a Web Guided by Common Sense
Published: November 12, 2006
SAN FRANCISCO, Nov. 11 — From the billions of documents that form the World Wide Web and the links that weave them together, computer scientists and a growing collection of start-up companies are finding new ways to mine human intelligence....

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