Symbol Grounding for the Semantic Web
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A true semantic web of data requires dynamic, real-time interoperability between disparate data sources, developed by different organizations in different ways, each for their own specific purposes. Ontology languages provide a means to relate data items to each other in logically well-defined ways, producing complex logical structures with an underlying formal semantics. Whilst these structures have a logical formal semantics, they lack a pragmatic semantics linking them in a systematic and unambiguous way to the real world entities they represent. Thus they are intricate "castles in the air", which may certainly have pathways built to link them together, but lack the solid foundations required for robust real-time dynamic interoperability between structures not mapped to each other in the design stage. Current ontology interoperability strategies lack such a meaning-based arbitrator, and depend instead on human mediation or heuristic approaches. This paper introduces the symbol grounding problem, explains its relevance for the Semantic Web, illustrates how inappropriate correspondence between symbol and referent can result in logically valid but meaningless inferences, examines some of the shortcomings of the current approach in dealing effectively at the level of meaning, and concludes with some ideas for identifying effective grounding strategies.
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