ANSI X3H4 meeting next week
Message-id: <>
Date: Wed, 2 Oct 91 05:39:57 EDT
Subject: ANSI X3H4 meeting next week
The next meeting of the ANSI X3H4 committee will be held at NIST in
Gaithersburg during the week of Oct. 7 to 11.  Tom Gruber sent me
a report on Ontolingua, which I will distribute to the group.  Does
anyone else have anything that should be mentioned?

I read the pro & con articles in the fall issue of AI Magazine,
and I sympathize with both sides.  On the one hand, standards are
essential for interchanging information.  If the people with the
best theoretical ideas ignore the people with the most pressing
practical problems, the results are not pretty.  One of the languages
that the ANSI X3H4 committee must deal with is something called the
ISO IRDS SQL Data Model -- an extension of the SQL query language
to a general specification language for everything.  If you think
that SQL is a kludgy excuse for logic, you haven't seen EXPRESS,
which is a language for interchanging manufacturing specifications.
It uses a procedural-like notation with DO-loops instead of quantifiers.
Since I have been involved with this ANSI committee, a new proposed
standard pops up in my mailbox every week.

But in the con article, Matt Ginsberg makes some important points that
cannot be ignored.  In my talk at Pajaro Dunes, I also discussed the
problems of knowledge soup (Sowa 1990).  Basic points:  the human brain
does not contain a single, unified, consistent knowledge base; every
large computer system has evolved as a loose confederation of independent
modules with limited dependencies on one another; and any large knowledge
base that depends on global consistency is doomed to be too inflexible
to be usable for practical problems.

I don't believe that Ginsberg's points or the knowledge soup ideas
imply that standards are impossible.  But I believe that they require
that the overall framework must accommodate an open-ended number of
modules that may be inconsistent and incompatible with one another.
Different modules may have different assumptions, different languages,
different reasoning methods, and even different ontologies.  The recent
introduction of microtheories into Cyc is a step in the right direction.
A mechanism for partitioning the knowledge base into quasi-independent
microtheories, modules, or contexts is essential.  But the system
framework must enable them to communicate with one another.

John Sowa


Sowa, John F. (1990) "Crystallizing theories out of knowledge soup,"
in Z. W. Ras & M. Zemankova, eds., _Intelligent Systems:  State of the
Art and Future Directions_, Ellis Horwood, New York,  p. 456-487.