Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Future of Semantic Technology

I had a very interesting conversation today that got me thinking. The topic revolved around where this particular segment of the larger IT domain might go - in terms of both scope and success.

In many ways, Semantic Technology has been totally defined within the context of the "Semantic Web" and the set of standards related to that W3C initiative. My contention to the colleague I was speaking to was that I had never pegged the nature or scope of what Semantic Technology is to the "Semantic Web" concept. I think they are quite complementary but the Semantic Web represents a narrower view in many respects to how Semantics ought to be viewed in the context of Information Technology as a whole.

Before the latest round of proponents of web-based or web-focused semantic applications, there were folks like Chomsky, who began to illustrate the deeper connections between meaning and representation - some used to refer to this as computational linguistics, but the scope was wide - it necessarily encompassed the entire spectrum of architectures and processes that surround any or every automation solution. I was pleased to see that Steven Pinker, an author coming from that original community of linguistic-focused academics writing a book about Ontology last year. This is a good sign the broader-base of thought leaders may be converging.

The problem that I see with the current practice of Semantic Integration and the current crop of Semantic technologies is that they have been too easily shunted off into their own relatively small niches. Granted, there have been and are still exceptions to this, but for many the notion of building vocabularies, ontologies and so forth seem more or less disconnected from the reality of their everyday challenges. Semantics is not an endeavor that serves itself, if it is viewed as the primary building block for everything in IT – the nature of the products and practices supporting it will change.

I’ll provide a concrete example – why should an enterprise architecture be managed separately from systems requirements and why should those both be separate from the BPEL workflow logic that drives a SOA-based portal? The short answer is they shouldn’t and don’t have to and this is only part of the larger synergy possible. We may be able to begin to apply Semantic Web technology or standards by passing RDFs back and forth, but the real leap we’re making here is more conceptual in nature.

The future of Semantic Technology is entirely dependent on the ability for us to make it relevant to this larger context or higher calling perhaps. I’ve spent more than a decade working in mostly larger, system of systems enterprise integration or transformation initiatives – many have claimed that they had the silver bullets which would simplify this arena (CORBA, J2EE, EAI, SOA etc.). The problem has always been perhaps though that we focused on the bullets instead of the gun…

Copyright 2008, Semantech Inc.

No comments: