Balisage Paper: Beyond the Semantic Web: the Semantic Space
University of Ottawa
Pierre Lévy is a philosopher who has devoted his professional life to the study of cyberculture and the growth of the science of human collective intelligence. More than a dozen of his books on these subjects are read in more than 10 languages, notably Cyberculture (1997), Becoming Virtual (1995), and Collective Intelligence (1994). A Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, he teaches at the University of Ottawa, where he holds the Canada Research Chair in Collective Intelligence.
Copyright © Pierre Lévy
Today, the sharing of semantics remains a conundrum. Semantics can be shared within a universe of discourse, but individuals and communities cannot be relieved of the need to define their own universes of discourse. The emergence of collective intelligence is increasingly seen as necessary for human survival, but it is difficult for people who live in diverse universes of discourse to know when they are talking about the same things. Collective intelligence — the ability of a community to exhibit self-sustaining, rational behaviors — is inversely related to its participants' ability to understand each other.
Diverse minds can create, recognize, and think in terms of diverse sets of distinct concepts and relationships between them. A conceptual addressing system can map such sets into a shared abstract "semantic space" that is structured by an algebraically definable group of transformations. Information Economy Meta Language (IEML) is such a "semantic space addressing system"; it defines a very large space of semantic addresses. A small number of the points in that space — more than 2,500 of them — are now listed in an "IEML Dictionary", along with interpretations of each of them in several natural languages. A language for compactly specifying sets of locations in the space exists, and a parser that translates expressions in this language into XML is available. A programming language for discovering and asserting relationships between sets of semantics is being developed, along with a variety of related software tools.
The semantic space research program could provide a scientific (measurable, principled, experimentally repeatable) foundation on which technologies and professional disciplines can be created, including distributed collaborative semantic search engines, models and simulations of collective intelligences, tools and editorial practices for the automated production of multimedia documents, and many more.