Financial Daily from THE HINDU group of publications
Wednesday, May 01, 2002
Info-Tech - Internet
Feeding meaning into the Web
THE Web is a mammoth effort but as anyone will realise, it forces us to work in specific ways to suit what is increasingly being perceived as its shortcomings. And these assertions are being made by the author of the World Wide Web itself Tim Berners Lee.
The effort is now on to let machines make more sense of the Web so that people can work better and more effectively with machines. A Web search that will differentiate between trust as a human emotion and trust as in a legal entity and the recognition that Microsoft has been facing an anti-trust case.
Context-aware links where the browser gives you more information about a word you want to know more about, a smart browser that offers more information about a particular site, one that gives you ratings and annotations posted there by other visitors to the site even if the site itself does not carry that content, more powerful directories and searches... . these are just a few possibilities of the new Web.
No longer will someone trying to access information on the Web be forced to wade through pages of unrelated matter to get the nugget of info she is looking for. Intelligent software messengers will explore thousands of Web sites to sift through and come up with relevant data. More. Routine business activities could be delegated to the system no longer will there be need for humans to baby-sit mundane tasks.
New millennium, new Web
In a world dominated by copyright and intellectual property issues, Tim Berners Lee decided, in 1990, not to patent the technology used to create the World Wide Web and the most important software breakthrough of the century was available to the public.
The new millennium now holds the promise of making the Web, and the world, a better place through the efforts of Tim Berners Lee and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), that he heads. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology-based W3C is described as a research octopus with over 400 member-companies, hundreds of researchers across five continents and university and government bodies working to develop the semantic Web.
If the Web as we know it today is an amazing phenomenon, the `Thinking Web,' as it has been christened, promises the world. Though that promise could take a few years coming, several technologies and standards are already in place and more are being developed.
This next-gen Web will let computers understand the meaning and relationships between words a smart network that can understand human language, the way humans understand it.
The Web will understand the meaning of words and concepts as well as the relationships between them. That is, the Web will understand what people are looking for through semantic information processing as opposed to syntactic information processing now.
With access to the totality of human knowledge through the network of computers and the evolved processing that is being envisioned, the semantic Web can become a source of inspiration, creativity and progress.
Just as the Net today has a host of information and the Web has revolutionised information access across countries and peoples, the semantic Web will let the user harness the power of the Web better because, it too thinks the way we do.
Like a gigantic brain, the new Web will make online commerce, Web services, information access and problem-solving easier than ever dreamed of before. Machines already outstrip humans in sheer computing with their ability to process millions of instructions each second.
With the ability to understand human language and reason, they will make life simpler and more enriching for us humans.
The semantic Web will be invisible to the general user. That is, the mechanism that drives the information and storage aspects will be dealt with by machines while users will experience a semantic interface.
Further, the vast amounts of information in different fields of research and human endeavour could potentially yield newer discoveries and insights, simply because it will be possible to assess and integrate interdisciplinary combinations of knowledge with ease.
XML excels, RDF promises
Extended Markup Language, or XML, has a few pointers for the direction of the new technologies. This language was constructed in the early 90s to help computers identify different types of data on the Web. Today, it is the basis of everything e-commerce.
But XML where tags imbue the Web with meaning is just the tip of the iceberg. As labels, they point to a definition elsewhere.
Software then determines the relationship between words as defined in the dictionary-cum-Thesaurus.
Although still part of the original Web vision, the semantic Web will use the already popular Extended markup language (XML) at its lower levels while the mid-levels such as resource description framework, which is a convention for using XML to express the relationship between real things are being developed and standarised. The top level or the `universal logic language' and the interface level with the user still are in the research and conceptualisation stage.
Resource Development Framework: A key semantic Web technology, the RDF, according to Berners Lee, is a convention for using XML to express the relationships between real things. With RDF, having written a few rules, it will be easy to share data. It reportedly works as a hub, connecting the applications as spokes.
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