Explaining Semantics

What is the Semantic Web and why should I care?

Educational 25 Oct 2021 by Ali Nicholl

What is semantics and why do IOTICS think it’s important?

“I have a dream for the Web [in which computers] become capable of analyzing all the data on the Web – the content, links, and transactions between people and computers. A “Semantic Web”, which makes this possible, has yet to emerge, but when it does, the day-to-day mechanisms of trade, bureaucracy and our daily lives will be handled by machines talking to machines. The “intelligent agents” people have touted for ages will finally materialize.” – Tim Berners-Lee, 1999

TB-L was talking over 20 years ago about a vision of autonomous interactions by machines across the web (for those that want a refresher this video from Cambridge Semantics explaining the evolutions of the web from information to application and beyond

There is an old joke – There are two fish in a tank. One turns to the other and says “How do you drive this thing?

This is not a joke a computer would understand or be able to negotiate. We as people understand the two meanings of tank and the absurdity of a pair of goldfish in a Challenger 2, without context, without meaning machines struggle to talk to machines. Especially where they are coming from different domains.

Semantics about a system allow other systems to get an unambiguous understanding of the system itself. No confusion over tanks here. This unambiguous understanding enables interoperability (in other words, understand information from, as well send commands to)

Interoperability is beyond data exchange formats or even explicit translation of information models between a producer and a consumer.

It’s about the mechanisms to enable this to happen automatically, without specific programming. There should be no need for an integrator to review thick manuals to understand what is really meant with a particular piece of data. It should be fully machine processable. This is the vision that TB-L had, and that IOTICS have built into IOTICSpace.

Why is semantics important to IOTICS?

Data interactions and Twin interactions need interoperability, specifically

Semantic interoperability:

  • Semantic model: common vocabulary linked to an ontology that provides meaning and enables inference and reasoning

This isn’t a view unique to IOTICS the world is rapidly waking up to the application of semantics and the importance of their applications:

This video featuring Ericsson does a really nice job of flagging the importance of semantic interoperability and how it supports interactions across ecosystems.

Tell me more, how is this applied in ecosystems?

When applying decentralised semantic interoperability to ecosystems of partners the following principles are our guiding light.

Open world assumption

  • What we say is true, what we don’t say can be true
  • Knowledge about assets evolve over time in ways we can’t predict

Robustness principle

  • Be strict with what you do and liberal in what you accept from others
  • Don’t trust what comes from another twin but validate

Data self-sovereignty

  • Every twin is in control of its own destiny (data, metadata it manages, identity, behaviour)
  • Twins can choose what to publish and to whom

Data centricity

  • Intelligence is in the data, with the data
  • Semantic data model drives applications

Reuse, don’t reinvent the wheel

  • Use well-established technologies and a well established decentralised platform
  • Lower the cognitive load to understand new concepts

And finally…

If you’re still hungry for more, you can watch Tim Berners-Lee’s Ted Talk about a Web of Open Linked Data here


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