Sunday, September 19, 2004

Web Proper Names: Naming Referents on the Web 

Web Proper Names: Naming Referents on the Web

"The value of the World Wide Web stems in large part from the fact that the varied constituents of the Web are about things--they describe things or picture things or discuss things. Often, although not always, these things are not themselves on the Web, rather they exist in the physical world. The ability to understand something as being about something, as being oriented towards something else without any direct connection to it, is crucial to human intelligence. Any effort to make the Web more intelligent, for example by automating the exploitation of resources on the Web, will have to somehow reproduce the human ability to understand what things are about.

This is an issue of immense practical importance: when someone searches the Web, they are looking for information about something. At present no automatic processes exist to index, organise, share, or even decide what web resources are about--all searches have to work with is text. The effort to provide machine-readable metadata through standards such as RDF and description logics as embodied in OWL are efforts to improve this situation. Although such efforts do allow a human to express what they believe a web-page is about in a standard way, they still beg the question of how to interoperably identify real-world things in such metadata.

Unfortunately, no-one from professional logicians to philosophers of consciousness have a solid idea about how we determine whether or not a thing is actually about something else. On the surface this aboutness seems physically spooky: I can think about the Eiffel Tower in Paris without being in Paris, or even having ever set foot in France. I can imagine what the Eiffel Tower would look like if it was painted blue. I can even think of a situation where the Eiffel Tower wasn't called the Eiffel Tower. Most importantly for our purposes, I can view a web page, either by typing a URL such as http::// into a browser or by typing Eiffel into a search engine and following one of the links it provides. Having done this, I know at a glance if the page is actually about the Eiffel Tower, or a hotel near the Eiffel Tower, as opposed to the object-oriented programming language Eiffel, or the film The Lavender Hill Mob, and so on. Yet this knowledge depends on fundamental aspects of human intelligence such as language understanding, scene recognition and so forth, which have proved distressingly resistant to automation."


Post a Comment

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?