Monday, March 19, 2007

HC2007 - Opening keynote, Nigel Shadbolt on the semantic web

Steven Kay opened the conference, which has the theme of 'Challenging Boundaries', by outlining the range of boundaries that may challenge us – social, organisational, political, national, economic, technical etc. He said that we need to make the computers fit for the health service, and that we need to challenge the boundaries of silo mentalities that many people have been working in. He closed his opening remarks with a quote from Bertrand Russell - 'In all affairs, it is healthy to hang a question mark on the things you have long taken for granted'.

Prof. Nigel Shadbolt, President of the British Computer Society (BCS) and from University of Southampton, whose field is AI and knowledge technologies ( gave the opening keynote, titled 'The Semantic Web and e-Health'

He began with a short overview of the BCS, which is 50 at the end of May 2007, has 60,000 members, and is determined to be professional, independent, interdisciplinary and forward-looking.

In giving an overview of the reality versus myths of the semantic web, saying that one myth is of a future of smart software agents, while the reality is more prosaic and mundane. The semantic web is about equipping content with rich metadata (information about information), and metadata organised into ontologies, which then means accessible data, with implications for interoperability.
Structured markup languages (such as HTML and XML) are taking us some way down the route we need to go, but other emerging semantic web functions will go even further, eg RDFs (resource description frameworks). He suggested that the semantic web is about sharing meaning through ontologies, an ontology being a shared model of conceptualisation of a domain; they are real and support communication and interoperability. This allows for network effects of information on the web, which gives serendipitous use of data and information. The semantic web, he said, is about sharing meaning, reducing ambiguity, making explicit what is implicit, and providing information spaces. However, the modern information fabric is about people, not just information and technologies; social issues of trust, privacy and governance and personal digital information entitlements.

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