Friday, 5 November 2010

Semantic ambiguity and how human communication fails - except by accident

It's been a busy week at the Topicmapmail-list, where a +50 message thread developed, starting off as an announcement of the Afghanistan War Diary as a topic map in Maiana (made from WikiLeaks data).

The discussion went off in several directions, and spun into a discussion of typing and the inherent messiness of trying to model the world.

- We're kind of back at the start. In a messy semi-structured world with information overflow, - what kind of technology can help us find a way?

Steve Pepper:
The categories of human knowledge are better expressed using a prototype model than a criterial-attribute (or "Aristotelian") model. In such a model, roles and types are not sharply differentiated, but rather exist on a continuum.
Alexander Johannesen questioned the basis of linked data and subject identification:
So the question becomes; can we still rely on our TM way of subject identification? I'm not so sure. Things change. And here's the catch; the more you describe that thing, the more you try to pin it down its definition, the less likely it is for that thing to fit whatever thing you need in what you're modelling. And the less likely it is that that model truly represents reality, so there's a whole scale of inherit dis-ambiguity that you need to have in mind when you knowingly have to make a million compromises while modelling.
To what degree do we need things to be correct vs. useful? And, in the end, is it useful that things aren't correct?
Andrew S. Townley had thoughts on scalability and how this can work outside a controlled environment:
Again, once you start trying to correlate statements about things made by millions of people each with thousands of overlapping but inconsistent assumptions, this stuff matters.  In a controlled environment or walled garden, you have a lot more leeway with "useful", but I don't think that's good enough in today's world with over 1 billion addressable pages added to the Web every day.
I think it's important to (continue to) talk about these issues now while there's still a chance of influencing how people try to deal with a world with that much data.  The less retrofitting and rectifying that needs to be done, the easier it will make things for everyone.  Most of the people churning out all that content have no idea these problems exist.  After all, they have Google and the magic search box.  All they need is just a little bit more link juice and social proof... ;)
Patrick Durusau followed up with a blogpost about Semantic ambiguity:
Since we are trying to communicate with other people, there isn’t any escape from semantic ambiguity. Ever.
It all led me back to Wiio's laws, which I have revisited many times before. - So here's some friday edutainment for those of you which haven't read Wiio's laws on

How all human communication fails, except by accident:
  1. Communication usually fails, except by accident.
  2. If a message can be interpreted in several ways, it will be interpreted in a manner that maximizes the damage
  3. There is always someone who knows better than you what you meant with your message
  4. The more we communicate, the worse communication succeeds
I see the laws as both as a serious warning about how messy human communication is, and as black humor for people trying to do this for a living.

Most of Wiio's work, and the information about his work is ironically in Finnish, which I think most people on this planet doesn't understand very well...

Jukka Korpela has however written an excellent commentary of Wiio's laws

Professor Osmo A. Wiio is a Finnish researcher of human communication. He studied, among other things, readability of texts, organizations and communication within them, and the general theory of communication. 

In addition to his academic career, he has authored books, articles, and radio and TV programs on technology, the future, society, and politics. He formulated "Wiio's laws" when he was a member of the Finnish parliament.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Food traceability system using RFID and Topic Maps

My Google alert found me an article about a food traceability system combining RFID and Topic Maps.

The system is for Spanish ham from the Teruel province (which is supposed to be excellent, and has a Denomination of Origin status):

Free Traceability Management Using RFID and Topic Maps

The article is from ECIME 2010 (the 4th European Conference on Information Management and Evaluation), but I have not found any info besides conference program and abstract.

According to the conference website "The proceedings of the above conference are now available to purchase in CD-ROM format only".

However interesting, - I'm not that keen on spending £50 to get a CD-ROM in the mail.

Open Access publishing is the way, that's for sure...