Mention the Semantic Web, and some people think it’s going to be a little slice of heaven, while others see it as the end of the world.
The first camp, which mainly includes scientists and researchers, wants to use computers to link up data from different sources to create a holistic view of the world.
The second, which is more concerned with the social impact of technology, counters that this would result in a massive invasion of privacy and that it will create useless results in part because it misses out on the implicit or ambiguous communications of the real world — where a wink is often as good as a nod. (And how would you wink if you were a computer?)
Of course, they both could be right. Ultimately, their debate is really about how the technological advances may impact society.
Scientists tend to like their worlds clear-cut and devoid of extraneous loose bits of matter, and typical of those who espouse the pro-Semantic Web view is Prof. James Hendler of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“My work is trying to integrate heterogeneous data using appropriate amounts of metadata (define) and doing things with metadata that you can’t do with language or specific data,” Hendler told InternetNews.com.
For example, he said, searching for a video on YouTube would likely be fruitless “unless you know the name of the artist and what you want to see.” Having brief descriptions of a video’s contents would be helpful but people submitting videos to the site “don’t want to write that many words when they send in their videos.”
However, if the files include a small amount of metadata, people searching for, say, the James Bond movie “Goldfinger” may be able to find the video even without knowing its name.
Users “would, for example, be able to say ‘I want that video where the guy takes off his hat and throws it at a statue and the head falls off and the hat comes back to you’ and it comes back with the title of the James Bond movie and a spoof.”
Learn how the Semantic Web is changing the way we treat data at the LinkedData Planet
The vision, as articulated by Sir Tim Berners-Lee back in 1999, was of a Web in which computers “become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web — the content, links, and transactions between people and computers” and this would result in “the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives” being handled by machines talking to machines.