Healthcare Informatics, the Semantic Web and Public Policy: Balancing Wishful Thinking with Realism

Henry S. Thompson
School of Informatics
University of Edinburgh,
Markup Technology Ltd.
World Wide Web Consortium
April 2005
© 2005 Henry S. Thompson

1.   Web Services—Semantic Web

Web Services is the name for a marketing initiative

The Semantic Web is the name for a vision of the future

They have a common dependency

2.   Web Services

My quick summary of Web Services:

Three key aspects:

3.   Semantic Web

As vision

As technology

Starting to grow

4.   The Origins of the Semantic Web

The information retrieval crisis beginning in the late 1990s led to a widespread interest in what has come to be called metadata.

What is metadata?

What could metadata do for us?

5.   First Requirements for Metadata

What would we need to make this work?

6.   Meaning is at the Core

Both SW and WS depend crucially on moving beyond syntax

7.   The place of semantics

Computers 'looking' for 'service providers' are not the same as human beings shopping on the web

Computers 'sharing' each others 'knowledge' are not the same as people reading web pages

So the metaphors underlying both WS and the SW can be very misleading

Negotiation between producers and consumers is the key

These observations apply equally well to Web Services and the Semantic Web

8.   Those Who do not Study History

are doomed to repeat it

The history of AI is full of examples of two weaknesses:

25 years ago Ed Feigenbaum described Terry Winograd's work as “a breakthrough in enthusiasm”

9.   The History of the Knowledge: Representation Problem

The representation and exploitation of knowledge has been the ultimate grand challenge for Artificial Intelligence since its inception

Our own human intelligence has sometimes been a real handicap

Designing apparently expressive notations is easy

10.   The Missing Inference Engine

What we learned in 1978–79 was that designing an approach to KR without first designing an inference engine was a waste of time

Actually worse than a waste of time

So we were left with an embarrassing tradeoff:

This tradeoff is still with us today

11.   The Semantic Web Today

1 ½ of the four first requirements for metadata I mentioned earlier:

12.   Responsible Public Policy

Top-down argument from need is misguided and even dangerous

The (health-care) informatics professional's job is to inject realism into the public arena

It's in everybody's interest to plan based on

13.   Augmentation, not replacement

Judgement is at the core of the practice of medicine

Evolution, not revolution

Look for opportunities to actually improve a process by 10%