Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Powerset: Breaking the Semantic Web Impasse? What Rubbish.

Microsoft's acquisition of Powerset makes perfect sense to me. After all, MS Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Outlook play a direct role in the creation of an enormous amount of content, all over the world. Add to that the MS Office suite's XML capabilities and I can begin to imagine some very real and very interesting possibilities when combined with NLP. But is it the Semantic Web? No, but it's definitely a step toward preparing content for use by the Semantic Web, and that's a really good thing.
Natural Language Processing Will Save the Semantic Web!
I took a look at Barney Pell's presentation at ISWC 2007 (but it froze half way through) and while I'm very interested, Natual Language Processing (NLP) simply isn't going to be the panacea he makes it out to be. The description of Barney's talk states that NLP "... can 
break the impasse and open up the possibilities of the Semantic Web." Huh?
Let's get something straight:
  • Natural Language Processing is not the Semantic Web.
  • Semantic Search is not the Semantic Web.
  • Natural Language Processing is a (intriguing) means for structuring written and spoken language so that it can be employed by Semantic Web solutions.
  • There's an enormous amount of data in the world where Natural Language Processing simply won't be applicable.
Don't get me wrong, I like NLP and I like anything that contributes to developing machine readable structures that describe documents. I also like the idea of documents "...as vector-of-keywords" because it seems precisely in line with my intent whenever I create an outline of something I'm going to write. See Barney's slide here:
Complementary Technology or Shared History?
I wouldn't advise Semantic Web startups to start looking at any valuations assigned to Powerset as a guide for the value of their own businesses. With respect to Microsoft, Powerset seems to be a very good fit with the company's portfolio and may play a very interesting role in the evolution of their technology. 
If we really want to join the party, maybe we should harken back to our roots and say it's all artificial intelligence anyway. Doing so might create a big umbrella which would give all our valuations a big boost. But that's admitting that AI is a success, just like expert systems, speech recognition, neural networks, data mining, spam filtering, fraud detection, fuzzy logic...whoops - getting cynical there...


sdmonroe said...
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sdmonroe said...

The Cypher transcoder is another NLP Semantic Web application which transforms natural language into RDF and SPARQL, see the Cypher demo online

David Provost said...

Thanks for this comment - I haven't heard of Monrai before, but I'll be looking through their site and I'll look forward to following their progress.