LolaTheriotWhy would someone want to develop an ontology?

In recent years the development of ontologies explicit formal specifications of the terms in the domain and relations among them has been moving from the realm of Artificial-Intelligence laboratories to the desktops of domain experts.

Ontologies have become common on the World-Wide Web. The ontologies on the Web range from large taxonomies categorizing Web sites (such as on Yahoo!) to categorizations of products for sale and their features (such as on Amazon.com).

The WWW Consortium (W3C) is developing the Resource Description Framework  a language for encoding knowledge on Web pages to make it understandable to electronic agents searching for information.

Why would someone want to develop an ontology? Some of the reasons are:

  • To share common understanding of the structure of information among people or software agents
  • To enable reuse of domain knowledge
  • To make domain assumptions explicit
  • To separate domain knowledge from the operational knowledge
  • To analyze domain knowledge

Sharing common understanding of the structure of information among people or software agents is one of the more common goals in developing ontologies . For example, suppose several different Web sites contain medical information or provide medical e-commerce services. If these Web sites share and publish the same underlying ontology of the terms they all use, then computer agents can extract and aggregate information from these different sites. The agents can use this aggregated information to answer user queries or as input data to other applications.

Enabling reuse of domain knowledge was one of the driving forces behind recent surge in ontology research. For example, models for many different domains need to represent the notion of time. This representation includes the notions of time intervals, points in time, relative measures of time, and so on. If one group of researchers develops such an ontology in detail, others can simply reuse it for their domains. Additionally, if we need to build a large ontology, we can integrate several existing ontologies describing portions of the large domain. We can also reuse a general ontology, such as the UNSPSC ontology, and extend it to describe our domain of interest.

Making explicit domain assumptions underlying an implementation makes it possible to change these assumptions easily if our knowledge about the domain changes. Hard-coding assumptions about the world in programming-language code makes these assumptions not only hard to find and understand but also hard to change, in particular for someone without programming expertise. In addition, explicit specifications of domain knowledge are useful for new users who must learn what terms in the domain mean.

Separating the domain knowledge from the operational knowledge is another common use of ontologies. We can describe a task of configuring a product from its components according to a required specification and implement a program that does this configuration independent of the products and components themselves . We can then develop an ontology of PC-components and characteristics and apply the algorithm to configure made-to-order PCs. We can also use the same algorithm to configure elevators if we “feed” an elevator component ontology to it .

Analyzing domain knowledge is possible once a declarative specification of the terms is available.  Formal analysis of terms is extremely valuable when both attempting to reuse existing ontologies and extending them .

Often an ontology of the domain is not a goal in itself. Developing an ontology is akin to defining a set of data and their structure for other programs to use. Problem-solving methods, domain-independent applications, and software agents use ontologies and knowledge bases built from ontologies as data

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