An Explanation of the Semantic Web

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Today users drive the search for the information they are looking for on the internet. They may use Google as their search agent and review the first five or ten listings to get the answer, product or service they are looking for. The interactions produced by Web 2.0 type applications like social media networks have made it easy to interact with other people and bring another whole dimension to our information search. The computers are the tools we use to get this information. We then have to interpret this information. The computers on the web don’t understand the content of the html documents they display, they simply display it.

The semantic web is about getting web computers to understand the semantics (the content) of the information they display. The goal is to make the information available on the web able to be interpreted by computers. This involves structuring the data by creating metadata that describes the meaning of the data. It is done with open standards so that any application can understand it and the data can be shared. The web becomes a database. Now it is more like a file server.  It means describing things so that computers can understand the relationships between things. The semantic web will allow intelligent agents to work for you to tell you what you need to know based on their understanding of you derived from everything the agent knows about you: your past queries, your interests, the context of your past interactions, etc. The agent will then be able to act for you to gather information from multiple sources and present it to you. Think of it as the agent doing your research for you and then presenting this information to you in the way you like to see it.

An example of this is the CALO project. Just as the Defense Department created the first network of computers as the precursor of the internet called Arpanet the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is now working on a project to develop a personalized cognitive assistant under its Personalized Assistant that Learns (PAL) program. According to the website “The goal of PAL is to create cognitive software systems which are systems that can reason, learn from experience, be told what to do, explain what they are doing, reflect on their experience, and respond robustly to surprise.”  The goal is to develop technology that will have a lot of value for the military so there isn’t a lot of public information about the project. However, it should have far reaching effects on the development of the semantic web.

Today we have tons of information on the internet. Search engines allow us to query this information to find what we are looking for. Most people spend too much time trying to find this information. It seems productive compared to how we did it before the internet but making the web meaningful for computers will allow us to automate this process and increase our productivity. It’s the next generation of the Internet called Web 3.0.

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