I am of two minds when it comes to Linked Data and the Semantic Web.

Libraries and many other professions have been encoding things for a long time, but encoding the description of a book (MARC) or marking up texts (TEI), is not the same as encoding knowledge — a goal of the Semantic Web. The former is a process of enhancing — the adding of metadata — to an existing object. The later is a process of making assertions of truth. And in the case of the former, look at all the variations of describing a book, and think of all the different ways a person can mark up a text. We can’t agree.

In general, people do not think very systematically nor very logically. We are humans full of ambiguity, feelings, and perceptions. We are more animal than we are computer. We are more heart than we are mind. We are more like Leonard McCoy and less like Spock. Listen to people talk. Quite frequently we do not speak in complete sentences, and complete “sentences” are at the heart of the Linked Data and the Semantic Web. Think how much we rely on body language to convey ideas. If we — as a whole — have this difficulty, then how can we expect to capture and encode data, information, and knowledge with the rigor that a computer requires, no matter how many front-ends and layers are inserted between us and the triples?

Don’t get me wrong. I am of two minds when it comes to Linked Data and the Semantic Web. On one hand I believe the technology (think triples) is a descent fit and reasonable way to represent data, information, and knowledge. Heck I’m writing a book on the subject with examples of how to accomplish this goal. I am sincerely not threatened by this technology, nor do any of the RDF serializations get in my way. On the other hand, I just as sincerely wonder if the majority of people can manifest the rigor required by truly stupid and unforgiving computers to articulate knowledge.

Eric “Spoken Like A Humanist And Less Like A Computer Scientist” Morgan
University of Notre Dame