Sunday, January 30, 2011

Misunderstanding is indeed creating

A distinction between humans and computers are that the former ones may misunderstand while the latter ones must either understand or do not understand.

If one asks what the mother of creation is, I choose misunderstanding. Any creation is an intentional or unintentional misunderstanding to a given fact. If we always think of facts as they are already known, no creation could ever be made. A creation happens only when a person misses the correct sense of a fact, either by his own intention or simply by accident. That is, he actually "misunderstands" the fact in the sense of "correct" logic.

Misunderstanding is a very powerful capability of human beings. By misunderstanding we break the flow of the regular logic derivation to encounter what must not been seen. Misunderstanding is not the single source for creating. But it is a distinctive source that tells the difference between humans and machines. Based on the current computer architecture, computers cannot misunderstand because it must always obey the correct logic derivation or otherwise it crashes. May quantum computer break this barrier for the machines?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Reason for Studying Semantic Web

Semantic Web research may lead to the invention of creation in the Web.

Certainly we have already had many reasons for studying Semantic Web. Here I add, however, only one extra but exciting---the invention of creation in the Web.

At the end of yesterday's post, very briefly I mentioned the "measurement=creation" principle formerly being studied for understanding Heisenberg uncertainty principle. In Heisenberg's view, "a measurement does not only serve to give meaning to a quantity, it creates a particular value for this quantity." Does this inspiration mean something for the Semantic Web research?

The key is measurement. Till now most Semantic Web entrepreneurs look forward to the business model of data package and selling. Nevertheless is it a great idea, there is a key value missed. The missed value is laid when the consumers measure data.

In Semantic Web every measurement leads to a re-interpretation of the data. By what we discussed in the last post, the result of the re-interpretation is theoretically unpredictable. Therefore, if we include the process of measurement into the business cycle, the value of the data may always increase through time. Moreover, if we may invent automated "data observers" that sit in the Web restlessly measure the Semantic Web data, the Web invents new knowledge every second.

We need a new way of thinking to explore the wealth of the Web in the microscale.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Horatio Principle and Logic on the Web

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, said Hamlet. By it Ken Binmore concluded:

The Horatio Principle:
Some events in a large world are necessarily nonmeasurable.

The Web is a large world. Hence we may suspect the applicability of Horatio Principle onto the Web. If this suspicion could be valid, there are a few interesting consequences. For example, it is unsafe for us to adopt an arbitrary definition on the Web without information loss. The Web expands everyday!

One essential assumption of the Semantic Web is that we can safely share terms each other defines online as long as we have coded them properly according to a well-designed logic description format. By Horatio Principle, however, such an assumption is questionable if the Web expands indefinitely, which we generally agree. Horatio Principle does not claim the Semantic Web approach being unrealistic. By contrast, it says that we might still have overlooked its complexity though we have already been very serious about the problem.

The Web versus the Semantic Web is similar to the world versus the world in microscale. In theory the world (observed in marcoscale) is the same world as it is in microscale because to the end there is only one world where we live. But indeed the two views of the world have many subtle but crucial different facets. At the macroscale, nearly all things in the world can be well determined and measured by the mechanical laws. At the microscale, however, many things become uncertain. A famous example is Heisenberg uncertainty principle. We can contrast the Web and the Semantic Web similarly. At the macroscale nearly all objects on the Web can be soundly defined based on the computable logic. At the microscale, by contrast, those logic rules perfectly sound in the macroscale start to be questionable when the target objects become more and more fine-grained. An effect similar to Heisenberg uncertainty principle emerges. Some events/definitions become nonmeasurable; the Horatio Principle takes action. Is this a small shadow over the great Semantic Web project?

The more I think of the Web 2.0 hype and the Semantic Web initiation, the more I feel that the Semantic Web research starts a journey to explore the micro-structure of the Web while Web 2.0 is a continuation of the ordinary macroscale journey of the Web. From now on, we must take this distinction into our mind and use different types of thinking to observe the two approaches. With hesitation, I used to avoid directly speaking Semantic Web being a direct successor of Web 2.0. Now the feeling becomes even stronger since they are studying different aspects of the Web. It is the same as avoiding claiming the quantum mechanics being a direct successor of the class mechanics. The relation between the two are not a relation of succeeding, but a relation between two sibling views onto the same target.

Without any kind of proofs at the moment, however, I want to make a bold claim as the following and make an intuitive explanation afterward.

The claim: In a web of fine-grained, linked data, one cannot simultaneously accomplish the following two requests: (1) precisely measure the definition of a data, and (2) precisely compare the data to another definition.

Before explaining the claim, let's take a brief review of a classic explanation of Heisenberg uncertainty principle. According to Heisenberg, in order to measure the position/momentum of a particle one must shoot a photon at the target. In our classic world, this is certainly not a problem at all since the mass of the target is generally million times, if not billion times, greater than the mass of a photon. The introduction of a new photon into the system thus affects no measurement result in the system. Therefore, we can precisely measure the position and the momentum of the target simultaneously. But such an argument becomes invalid in the microscale when the mass of the target is close to the mass of a photon. The introduction of a photon significantly affects the original state of the system. As the result, it becomes impossible for any observer to identify the original position and the original momentum of the target simultaneously.

I analogize the former situation onto the Web. Anytime we measure the definition of an object we actually assign a few fine-grained new properties to the target such as measured-by and several central attributes about the observer. This property-assignment impact actually does nearly nothing to the target in the macroscale Web because every object is defined coarse-grained. By coarsely defined, the newly introduced object properties caused by measurement generally do not affect us retrieve the definition of the target and compare it to another definition simultaneously. When we study an object in a web of linked, fine-grained data, however, the situation changes. One cannot omit the impact of a new measurement to the interpretation of an object. In fact, every new measurement enriches the intent of an object non-neglectably. Therefore, the simultaneously measurement to the precise definition of the data and its precise comparison to another given definition is impossible.

It is not a proof. But I incline to the so-called "measurement=creation" principle, which has been studied for explaining Heisenberg uncertainty principle, in the Semantic Web thinking. When we go to measure a definition in the microscale, we actually are creating in contrast to querying or retrieving a meaning. This is how the microscale world is different from the macroscale world. And this is going to be how the microscale Web would be different from the macroscale Web.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A land flowing with milk and honey

A Chinese said to me that how much blessed America is for being a land flowing with milk and honey, and how unlucky China is by not being such a land. I was stunned and asked, "How could a place not being a land flowing with milk and honey but have raised more than a billion people?"

In Bible, it is said that the holy land WAS a land flowing with milk and honey when God promised it to Abraham, Issac, Jacob, and Moses. It is no longer now. But the people in the land is still blessed. A Muslim friend of mine once told me how much blessed he felt being a Muslim since God give the Muslim world most of the oil fields in the world. And to Israel, my Muslim friend said, "God left them nothing." (They have no oil, basically it's the meaning.) "Well," I smiled, "surely you are blessed. But God gave Israel people nothing else but HIMSELF."

What is truly a land flowing with milk and honey? It is not about how rich, productive, or geographically superior the land is. It is about how the people who live in the land are. If the people are honest, industrious, and kind to each other, the land flows milk and honey despite of its natural geography. On the contrary, a land by nature flowing milk and honey could become a desert.

Monday, January 17, 2011

What have made them greater than the others? (Not about Beatles)

What have made them greater than the others? If you ask the question about The Beatles, I will answer you that it is because they had successfully absorbed people---they made people by part of them in contrast to just being engaged to them! And so did the other great things, such as Netscape, such as Yahoo, such as Google, such as Apple, such as Facebook, and Twitter.

Recently I was approached by a question: how do you think of this company? [I omit its name here, no intention to offend anybody, and it indeed does no matter to the topic of the post either.] It was a name with much hype right now. Many people think it is great; but is it truly? Will it be such as, the next Facebook, for instance?

When The Beatles were popular, their music had been part of the life of the fans. The music led people think more about their own and the life they lived. It improved the human wisdom. It was not just that the music was touching. By contrast, the music lead to more human thinking. And human thinking makes our society grow.

The same was done by those great inventions related to the Web. Netscape made people think more and led to the idea of competing on domain-name registrations. Yahoo made people think more and led to the idea of publishing business through portals and being indexed. Google made people think more and led to the idea of better advertisement through SEO. Apple made people think more and led to the idea that even a tiny enlightenment could be leveraged and be profitable. Facebook made people think more and led to the idea of being benefit and profitable through each other's social network. And, Twitter also made people think more and led to the idea that has revolutionarily updated the News industry.

So, what are the common character among these great of the greats? They make people think more, and they make people be smarter! They have enriched the whole human intelligence. They are not (or at least not only) tools. They are the human-wisdom generators.

On the other side, why aren't many the others great as these ones? Those the others might have once engaged people as well but did not encourage active human thinking as the great ones did. They want to be so "smart" that disclaim the "need" of think among their followers. Ironically, however, with no need of human thinking few new business could be born because of them. And thus they lose the ground to become great.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Another Timeline of World Wide Web

1969, the first two nodes of ARPANET were connected
[egg meets sperm]

1985, the first commercial Internet domain name (.com) was registered
[the baby in the tummy was ready to be born]

1989, nodes (hyptertext) and links (hyperlink) of World Wide Web were invented by Tim Berners-Lee, the physical Web came to the world
[the birth]

1994, Netscape Navigator was released
[the grand baby shower, the new-born was well received!]

1995, Yahoo was incorporated
[the mutual communication between the baby and us started]

2000, Google started running search for Yahoo
[baby grew and owned self characters; no longer did we tag her only, she sorted herself]

2003, Apple opened iTune Store, which eventually led to App Store in 2008
[we began to be part of the baby, which had been a small kid then]

2006, Facebook opened to everyone of ages 13 and older with a valid email address
[the small kid started walking around where we were her feet]

20??, what is the next?


It took 20 years for the Web to get birth from its very beginning. It then took another 20 years for the baby to be able to walk. What an amazing history! But the truly intriguing questions is, however, what the next big step is!

A few explanation about the timeline I share.

(1969) Any web was started by linking the first two nodes.

(1985) When people started to ask the first commercial domain name, the concept of World Wide Web had already been mature.

(1989) Of course, a real birth must demand the completion of the physical body; TBL accomplished the quest.

(1994) With Netscape an ordinary Tom got to touch the mysterious World Wide Web first time in his life, physically. What a wonderful creature it was!

(1995) Netscape allowed the Web came to us; Yahoo, on the other hand, let us talk to the Web.

(2000) The Web had formed its own ecosystem. Then it was the number of links, instead of the category of pages, that mattered more, Stupid!

(2003) We needed to enter the new ecosystem ourselves! And we did.

(2006) Inside the ecosystem we started tasting our second life; and the Web travels when we travel.

(20??) Can you make a sentence by following this trend? Please try it. Maybe you ARE the next great inventor in this line!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Data, Mind, A Web of ?

The advance of technology should always make us smarter.

Data and a web of data

When it is related to computing, data is information in a form suitable for use with a computer.

Data owns many merits. Data is honest, objective, and long-lasting. Data is convenient to be connected, shared, copied, manipulated, consumed, transported, bought, and sold. And in general data is inexpensive to be created and stored.

But data is also with some weaknesses. Data does not think. Data cannot interpret itself. Data could be confusing. Data is easy to be abused. And after all data does not produce. Data is consumable goods like grains or coal in contrast to tools such as lathe or electric generator. Data is for the Wall Street traders and retail salesmen to trade in contrast to for the manufacturers to produce.

What is going to be if the Web truly becomes a web of data, or more precisely a web of linked data? It will be a paradise for salesmen and Wall Street traders. The Web becomes a super supermarket. Wonderful! Bravo! Done. A new age of mankind arrives ...

But wait! Is there anything wrong? Imagine a society where the salesmen and traders dominate everything but the producers and manufacturers are second-class, may the society be sustainable? Oh, maybe it is the United States now.

Mind and a web of mind

Mind is the aspect of intellect and consciousness experienced as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will, and imagination, including all unconscious cognitive processes. This definition is too long. In a short version, a mind is how a human interprets the world, and his result interpretation. In the sense of computing, mind is the methods/procedures for manufacturing data, and the manufactured output.

Mind also has a few merits. Mind is creative, genuine, active, and exciting. Mind flows by itself. Mind produces. A mind never stops interact with the other minds. Mind grows. Mind is alive.

Despite of all the merits, mind has terrible weaknesses too. Mind is subjective. Mind could be selfish or with unspeakable bad intention. Mind could be deceived. It is more difficult to share or connect minds because they could own their own identity that claim to be uncompromisable.

A web of mind is like a world of factories. Everybody debates, competes, and even fights each other. Such a world is like a mess such as a troubled third-world country you can imagine.


But there is a very interesting discovery if we compare the two very different Webs more carefully. In the world of the data web, humans are outsiders, observers, or at most the communicators to the world. Or let's speak the fact in another way, humans are not part of the world though they do business with the world. On the contrary, in the world of the mind web, humans are part of the world because it is THEIR mind and it is THEM who fight each other on such web in contrast to through such web. We are becoming part of the Web.

Such a distinction is crucial since the goal of our Web development must not be teaching computers to think and make them smarter and smarter. By contrast, the right and indeed ever-lasting goal for any of the human creation must be to make us, human beings, be smarter and smarter over time. We should be using computers to help humans think and create value instead of the opposite. When we are part of the Web, we become smarter when the Web gets smarter. When we are outside of the Web, we tend to be more stupid when the Web gets smarter. Only if we can correct our intention of Web development to the right track, the eventual enthusiasm of the general public will be invoked into this, possibly great ever, achievement of all mankind.

We need data and we need mind. The future of World Wide Web demands the both, simultaneously and being balanced.

In the last year, I witnessed the final death (corrected by the founder, it was in hibernation instead of being given up) of an early-born baby that donated itself to the mind Web. It is sad but the hopes remains. Myself have learned many lessons for this attempt, and I am certain the founders must have learned more. However, I am fully confident that it is still the correct path forward. The next footstep after Netscape, Yahoo, Google, Apple, and Facebook will be on this path. Human and human mind being the driving force in (instead of "to") the Web is the next great invention about the Web.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Apple and a Mutant of Web it Creates

Holding an Apple product such as an iPhone or an iPad has been a fashion, let it alone the usefulness of the devices themselves. I am not a fashion speaker. However, what has driven me very excited about Apple is a mutant of the Web Apple creates. Intentionally or subconsciously Apple makes us a web backed by a different thinking. Due to the company's great success in business the thinking has already invaded into the mind of many of us though few might have noticed it. In this post I share my viewpoint about this Apple-created mutant and its relation to the eastern style of thinking we discussed in the last post.

The Web invented by Sir Tim Berners-Lee was conducted by a classic western style of thinking. The Web was composed of many nodes where each node represents a molecular object. Then there are hyperlinks connecting these nodes arbitrarily. In general every node of the Web has a name (typically a page title) while the hyperlinks are anonymous. This distinction is both essential and crucial. With name a thing declares its tangible intent and identity. Without a name, on the contrary, the intent of a thing is intangible. Therefore, by this design the Web is a world of objects/data and their categorization---the typical western style thinking. The initial Yahoo search was based exactly on this thinking in order to disclose the complete hierarchical structure of the Web, and in the first few years of the Web age the attempt succeeded more or less.

The fallen of Yahoo search and the rise of Google search was a remarkable event in the history of Web evolution. Besides all the other meanings, it tells that the Web had evolved by itself and broken the initial foundation upon the western style of thinking. Google's success showed that it was links instead of categories of the pages that mattered more when sorting the Web. The ones without name were more essential than the ones with name when we explored the topological structure of the Web. If only we think of this discovery once more, isn't the message itself shocking enough?

Then there was Apple.

Unlike Google who sorts and organizes the Web, Apple simply wants to use the Web. Unfortunately, like many other Web-based companies in the beginning Apple might have found that the Web was not very friendly for being consumed. Information on the Web is highly tangled and the traditional thinking of knowledge categorization is too slow to untangle the mess. Unlike an academic research institute, a company cannot wait since money never sleeps! So Steve thought of a solution.

At old days the ancient Chinese had faced the same problem but about the real world. Unlike the more idealistic ancient Greek who were enthusiastic in exploring the world knowledge bottom-up from the foundation, the ancient Chinese were more materialistic (or more practice-oriented; and until now they still are indeed). The ancient Chinese chose a middle-out way to explore the world. Neglecting object categorization and even logic, the ancient Chinese chose the methods of practice be the solution. Once one might have grasped a method of practice, he could apply the method universally to solve the other similar problems in the world. This is a core of the ancient Chinese philosophy. Note that when the "similar" in Chinese's mind is quite different from the "similar" in a westerner's mind. The westerners normally assume "similarity" within a common domain/category while the easterners (especially the ancient Chinese) generally do not have this hypothesis. Due to the difference it is not uncommon for a Chinese character being assigned multiple varied meanings in different (could even be mutually excluded) domains, and it is not unusual to find a Chinese character but with the absolute opposite meaning by simply being assigned a varied context. This type of word interpretation is rare in the western languages such as English, which generally pursue the preciseness and uniqueness on term definition. By focusing on grasping and utilizing the methods of resolutions in contrast to understanding the essence of the causes of problems, the ancient Chinese advanced the civilization faster than the western competitors in the early ages of human society. Apple adopted a similar solution as the ancient Chinese did.

Apple conducted a web of methods. Apple created a space so that people could implement their methods of consuming the Web and publish them. In contrast to selling information, Apple sells information-consuming methods. After buying an App, the users can decide how to use the method and which resources to be consumed. Through the AppStore, Apple creates a mutant of the Web in which the Apps (methods) are the main threads where objects are context.

Apple's methodology brings the company tremendous success in business. Have Apple added more regulation to the Web? Hardly any. Unlike the Semantic Web project, Apple's approach does little help for the Web to become a better organized place. But like what ancient Chinese did, through this methodology Apple gives the layman users the greatest freedom of utilizing their knowledge. In the ancient Greek society, knowledge was only on the hand of the intellects because it was studied in such an academic way. Comparatively people without much knowledge could learn a method and then applied it in their own life through their own human creativity by nature in the ancient Chinese society. It was an important reason that ancient China grew faster than the civilization in the western society. Now Apple cloned the similar methodology in its business.


Without the western style of thinking, we would not have invented World Wide Web. It was the objects and the links that constructed the skeleton and made the Web live. After the Web became alive, however, it is a much more complicated creature than a hierarchical category. Like the real world from which it is imaged, very quickly the virtual world is tangled. It is hopeless to untangle the mess from bottom-up or from top-down within short time of period. In order to facilitate the usage of the Web at this stage we need to borrow ideas from the eastern philosophies. At last, however, we still need the methodology in the western philosophy to finally solve the mess and invent the real science of the Web. It is like that eventually the long-lasting fundamental study in the western society made fruits from which we had the modern science and engineering. By contrast, the ancient Chinese civilization stopped growing eventually due to its lack of the fundamental study of the nature. It was the human history; and it will be the Web history.

Monday, January 03, 2011

The Geography of Thought and the Web

During the last Christmas break, I finished a book titled The Geography of Thought. The subtitle of the book says "How Asians and Westerners Think Differently ... and Why," which well describes its theme. The book is interesting and informative despite the author often repeats the same thought here or there in book. One Amazon book reviewer called it "Interesting, but could have been so much better" and I am very much leaning towards the comment. The idea presented by the book is deserved to be thought again and again hundreds of times.

The book itself is worth of being recommended. But my interest of this post is on how the thought difference caused by the geography may have affected the construction of the Web and how it may continue to impact the Web evolution.

A phrase in the book that caught me is "Is the World Made Up of Nouns or Verbs?" In the eye of a computer scientist, this is neither a philosophical nor a linguistic question but a concrete question of engineering. To see it, allow me substitute only one word in the former question---Is the Web Made Up of Nouns or Verbs? The Web is an image of our world, isn't it?

In the book, Richard Nisbett (author) argued that the westerners tend to think of the world based on the distinction of objects. One object is certainly not another object. Wood is certainly not table. Airplane is certainly not iron. The world is made up by objects and it is a network of objects. Isn't the thought natural to us? Surely it is, especially to most of the Thinking Space readers I believe (since most of you are westerners).

On the other hand, Nisbett argued that the easterners actually think of the world differently. According to the easterners, the world is a tangled place of substances. One cannot even really name an object until he has comprehensively recognized all the substances that not only compose the object but also compose the context of the object, such as its position and the interaction with the adjacent substances. One cannot immediately judge a wood being not a table without context. This is somehow odd to the western style of thinking because westerners can hardly image a situation where a name indeed means nothing until the context of the name must have been well established. In the other words, it is a world that extent suppresses intent.

Unlike the westerners who generally believe objects (in its sense of abstraction) being the fundamental building blocks of the world, for long time the easterners perceive relations being the true construction blocks of the world. The westerners think a noun holding its uniqueness regardless of the application, while the easterners think of a noun indeed with few uniqueness until we recognize its application environment. The easterners think verbs being unique since they describe the ways of tangling while nouns are the things happen to be tangled.

I was born and grown up in China where I was very deeply influenced by the classic eastern philosophies. Then I came to United States continuing my graduate study and work. Till now I have lived in the western society continuously for more than 12 years. Hence I feel myself be eligible to say that Nisbett truly has done a very good job on recognizing a key difference between the eastern and western societies.

From my childhood I am very much interested in and eventually become very familiar to the eastern style of thinking. Later it becomes both a blessing and a curse on me. My classic eastern style thinking allows me to untangle very complicated events that few others can do. On the other hand it often pulls me to situations over-complicated. This contradiction has annoyed me for long time. The book helps understand my own problem better and leads me to some potential solutions as well.

Now let's turn to World Wide Web. As we all know, the Web is designed by and primarily developed in the western society. Therefore, without surprising the Web today is a product of the western style of thinking. Due to this type of thinking the Web today is composed of nouns/objects, no matter whether we view it as a Net, a Web, or a Graph. World Wide Web is a network of objects. Nevertheless, the Semantic Web community, a primary W3C achievement, claims the future of the Web to be more and more a web of data. It means a network of more fine-grained nouns.

Despite of the success of the Web so far, a question is, however, that whether the western style of thinking is the only way that may lead the Web forward. Or, more importantly, will the Web continuously evolve only in the track of this style of thinking? Will it eventually be a bottleneck if we do not start to think of another route for Web evolution?

A problem already starts to emerge. The Semantic Web as a web of data (or a web of objects) is progressed slower than expected, especially when we compare it to the other industry-lead movements such as Web 2.0. The Web seems reluctantly deeper into the realm as a network of nouns. At the same time, the Web becomes more and more active when "services" spread.

Compared to data, a service is closer to be a verb on the Web. Phrases such as "google the term", "amazon the price", "ebay the item" point out that the verbs we created on the Web are very well received by the public. Unlike what Semantic Web perceiving the future of the Web to be a network of more fine-grained nouns, the Web 2.0 movement demonstrates that the Web demands more verbs than nouns in growing. Don't the verbs tell us anything?

We may need to take the eastern style of thinking to think of the Web. But, how? I will continue this topic in the next post in which I discuss how we may learn from the way Apple thinks of the Web.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Happy New Year!

It has been a year since my last post. I deeply thank all of the Thinking Space readers. Some of you sent me emails or made comments asking when I would resume posting. I am deeply grateful to your enthusiasm to the site and my posts. In this year, I am going to resume this hobby and share with you my thinking and viewpoints of World Wide Web, Web Wide Web evolution, and the events on the Web.

What Thinking Space contributes might not be the first-hand news. But every post on this site must be the genuine thinking that you can hardly find anywhere else on or off the Web.

Happy New Year!