Subject: Re: becoming a better programmer From: Erik Naggum <email@example.com> Date: 16 Sep 2002 10:59:07 +0000 Newsgroups: comp.lang.lisp Message-ID: <firstname.lastname@example.org> * synthespian | I don't understand your point of view, in the light of the fact that a | couple of weeks ago you said that SGML and XML were "braindead." Well, let me put it this way: The XML crowd believes that if you only add enough markup, everything humankind has ever dreamt of will suddenly emerge from the chaos. I believe that this is a very serious misunderstanding of both chaos and emergent properties and that more markup will, in fact, prevent them from emerging. XML-style markup effectively prohibits the multiple perspectives on the same information that makes it usable for multiple purposes. In this sense, the more you employ XML to achieve your goals, the more irrelevant the result will become. | That really kept me wondering for days...I kept thinking "well, how would | you view, then, a thing like the Semantic Web from a Lisp perspective?" Note that the Semantic Web so far is being realized with tons and tons of markup that fail miserably in being the flexible declarative language to describe semantics in web pages that we need. I consider the efforts by the people who work on this without any understanding of how people have dealt with semantic classification of information prior to the Internet to be a colossal waste of effort. They will, in all likelihood, reinvent everything badly, being more interested in concocting useless syntactic monsters than the information infrastructure that is necessary to realize their ideas. | Would you care to expand on your views regarding the Semantic Web, XML being | "hopeless", SGML being "braindead" and all that in what regards a Lisp | approach to those important questions? That is, how would *you* go about | it, if I may ask? This is a very broad question. I think the Semantic Web will be realized when the analytical capacity of software has progressed to the point where people are actively encouraged to help the computer by communicating their intent and our human-computer-human communication changes out language and our communication skills. For instance, when it becomes rewarding for the user to make the steps of his argument clear to the computer so the computer can help him communicate with other computers that might more effectively argue his point with the originating human who will listen more to his computer than to other people, the user will benefit from communicating in a way that removes much of the ambiguity of our current language. This will not happen if the amount of work necessary to communicate with the computer is as immensely complicated as the current XML-based Semantic Web. | All these things matter a lot to me, being from the medical community, and | quite aware of the importance that being able to integrate the data that | continues to grow at exponential rate in the field (genome, for instance, | the barrier that tradional statistics methods are up against in a large | medical database, etc...) I envision a future where people are sufficiently encouraged by computers to learn the skills of rhetoric, argumentation, and logic to actually achieve what education cannot achieve when there is no clear benefit to learning either of these skills. I also believe that something like Dewey's or the Universal decimal classification system needs to be taught as the optimal means of searching for information with computers. (The actual numbers is not the point -- the hierarchical structuring of human knowledge that is embodied in the coding into numbers is an unparallelled achievement. The silly re-invention of "ontologies" in the Semantic Web context is pathetic in comparison.) All of this actually means that philosophy, epistemology, the nature of concepts, etc, will have to become fundamental in people's approach to information. Today, we are hampered by many false starts in these areas and much muddled thinking and expression thereof. I believe that over time, probably many decades, perhaps even centuries, we will get rid of many of the historical accidents in our language and communication and will consider the new accident of using computers a more fundamental property than it is today. When you cannot get anything /done/ being sloppy and incoherent, people will just adapt. The school that says that computers should adapt to people is wrong for many reasons, the most important of which is the misguided notion that what people do today is better than whet they will do tomorrow under new technological influences, that yesterday's (or yestercentury's) technology that shaped our language and thinking, is better than our current or future technology, is keeping us all back. I am, obviously, not advocating that we go into some "logical" language or that we "speak mathematics" (frequent hysterical rejections of improvements in human communication usually take this form by mathofobes), but that we consider the benefits that befall us when adapting our natural language to the requirements that follow from wanting to get the most out of exchanges with our communication peers. When our peers become computers, as the Semantic Web clearly foresee, people should, indeed must, change to make themselves better understood and the exchange more fruitful for all parties. If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis holds, we must change our language in order to become more "rational" vis-a-vis the computer. This could become a "class distinction" in the future, where the educated communicate mostly with their computers and the illiterate mostly with people. It is at times like this that my desire to see immortality in our lifetime just gets more intense. -- Erik Naggum, Oslo, Norway Act from reason, and failure makes you rethink and study harder. Act from faith, and failure makes you blame someone and push harder.