Click here to close now.




















Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Liz McMillan, Pat Romanski, Elizabeth White, Lori MacVittie, Ian Khan

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Industrial IoT, Microservices Expo, Containers Expo Blog, Agile Computing, @BigDataExpo

@CloudExpo: Article

Semantic Interoperability: The Pot of Gold Under the Rainbow

The problem with semantic interoperability is that human communication is inherently vague, ambiguous, and relative

Our ZapThink 2020 poster lays out our complex web of predictions for enterprise IT in the year 2020. You might think that semantic operability is an important part of this story; after all, several groups have been heads down working on the problem of how to teach computers to agree on the meaning of the information they exchange for years now. But look again: we relegate semantics to the lower right corner, where we point out that we don’t believe there will be much progress in this area by 2020. Eventually, maybe, but even though semantic interoperability appears to be within our grasp, it behaves more like the pot of gold under the rainbow. The closer you get to the rainbow, the farther away it appears.

What gives? ZapThink usually takes an optimistic perspective about the future of technology, but we’re decidedly pessimistic about the prospects for semantic interoperability. The problem as we see it comes down to the human understanding of language. All efforts to standardize meanings in order to facilitate semantic interoperability strip out vagueness and ambiguity from data, and presume a single, universal underlying grammar. After all, isn’t the goal to foster precise, unambiguous, and consistent communication between systems? The problem is, human communication is inherently vague, ambiguous, and relative. The way humans understand the world, the way we think, and the way we put our thoughts into language require both vagueness and ambiguity. Without them, we lose important aspects of meaning. Furthermore, how we structure our language is culturally and linguistically relative. As a result, current semantic interoperability efforts will be able to address a certain class of problems, but in the grand scheme of things, that class of problems is a relatively small subset of the types of communication we would prefer to automate between systems.

The Importance of Vagueness
Ironically, to discuss semantics we must first define our terms. A term is vague when it’s impossible to say whether the term applies in certain circumstances, for example, “my face is red.” Just how red does it have to be before we’re sure it’s red? In contrast, a term is ambiguous when it’s possible to interpret it in more than one way. For example, “I’m going to a bank” might mean that I’m going to a financial institution or to the side of a river.

Vagueness leads to knotty problems in philosophy that impact our ability to provide semantic interoperability. So, let’s go back to philosophy class, and study the sorites paradox. If you have a heap of sand and you take away a single grain, do you still have a heap of sand? Certainly. OK, repeat the process. Clearly, when you get down to a single grain of sand remaining, you no longer have a heap. So, when did the heap cease to be a heap?

Philosophers and linguists have been arguing over how to solve the sorites paradox for over a century now (yes, I know, they should find something more useful to do with their time). One answer: put your foot down and establish a precise boundary. 1,000 or more grains of sand are a heap, but 999 or less are not. Our computers will have no problem with such a resolution to the paradox, but it doesn’t accurately represent what we really mean by a heap. After all, if 1,000 grains constitutes a heap, wouldn’t 999? Central to the meaning of the term “heap” is its inherent vagueness.

Another solution: yes, there is some number of grains of sand where a heap ceases to be a heap, but we can’t know what it is. This resolution might satisfy some philosophers, but it doesn’t help our computers make sense out of our language. A third approach: instead of considering “is a heap” and “isn’t a heap” as the only two possible values, define a spectrum of intermediary values, or perhaps a continuum of values. The computer scientists are likely to be happy with this answer, as it lends itself to fuzzy logic: the statement “this pile of sand is a heap” might be, say, 40% true. Yes, we can do our fuzzy logic math now, but we’ve still lost some fundamental elements of meaning.

To bring back our natural language-based understanding of the sorites paradox, let’s step away from an overly analytical approach to the problem and try to look at the paradox from a human perspective. How, for example, would a seven-year-old describe the heap of sand as you take away a grain of sand at a time? They might answer, “well, it’s a smaller heap” or “it’s kinda a heap” or “it’s a little heap” or “it’s not really a heap,” etc. Such expressions are clearly not precise. Our computers wouldn’t be able to make much sense out of them. But these simple, even childish expressions are how people really speak and how people truly understand vagueness.

The important takeaway here is that vagueness isn’t a property relegated to heaps and blushing faces. It’s a ubiquitous property of virtually all human communication, even within the business context. Take for example an insurance policy. Insurance policies have a number of properties (policy holder, underwriter, insured property, deductible, etc.) and relationships to other business entities (policy application, underwriting documentation, claims forms, etc.) Now let’s add or take away individual properties and relationships from our canonical understanding of an insurance policy one at a time. Is it still a policy? Clearly, if we take away everything that makes a policy a policy then it’s no longer a policy. But if we take away a single property, we’re likely to say it’s still a policy. So where do we draw the line? If philosophers and linguists haven’t solved this problem in over a century, don’t expect your semantic interoperability tool to make much headway either.

The Problem of Linguistic Relativity
Another century-long battle in the world of linguistics is the fray over linguistic relativity vs. linguistic universality. Linguistic relativity is the position that language affects how speakers see their world, and by extension, how they think. In the other corner is Noam Chomsky’s universal grammar, the linguistic theory that grammar is hardwired into the brain, and hence universal across all peoples regardless of their language or their culture. Theoretical work on a universal grammar has led to dramatic advances in natural language translation, and we all get to use and appreciate Google Translate and its brethren as a result. But while Google Translate is a miraculous tool indeed (especially for us Star Trek fans who marveled at the Universal Translator), it doesn’t take a polyglot to realize that the state of the art for such technology still leaves much to be desired.

Linguistic relativity, however, goes at the heart of the semantic interoperability challenge. Take for example, one of today’s most useful semantic standards: the Resource Description Framework (RDF). RDF is a metadata data model intended for making statements about resources (in particular, Web-based resources) in the form of subject-predicate-object expressions. For example, you might be able to express the statement “ZapThink wrote this ZapFlash” in the triplet consisting of “ZapThink” (the subject); “wrote” (the predicate); and “this ZapFlash” (the object). Take this basic triplet building block and you can build semantic webs of arbitrary complexity, with the eventual goal of describing the relationships among all business entities within a particular business context.

The problem with the approach RDF takes, however, is that the subject-predicate-object structure is Eurocentric. Non-European languages (and hence, non-European speakers) don’t necessarily think in sentences that follow this structure. And furthermore, this problem isn’t new. In fact, the research into this phenomenon dates back to the 1940s, with the work of linguist Benjamin Lee Whorf. Whorf conducted linguistic research among the Hopi and other Native American peoples, and thus established an empirical basis for linguistic relativity. The illustration below comes from one of his seminal papers on the subject:



In the graphic above, Whorf compares a simple sentence, “I clean it with a ramrod,” where “it” refers to a gun, in English and Shawnee. The English sentence predictably follows the subject-predicate-object format that RDF leverages. The Shawnee translation, however, translates literally to “dry space/interior of hole/by motion of tool or instrument.” Not only is there no one-to-one correspondence between parts of speech across the two sentences, but the entire context of the expression is different. If you were in the unenviable position of establishing RDF-based semantic interoperability between, say, a British business and a Shawnee business, you’d find RDF far too culturally specific to rise to the challenge.

The ZapThink Take
We have tools for semantic interoperability today, of course – but all such tools require the human step of configuring or training the tool to understand the properties and relationships among entities. Once you’ve trained the tool, it’s possible to automate many semantic interactions. But to get this process started, we must get together in a room with the people we want to communicate with and hammer out the meanings of the terms we’d like to use.

This human component to semantic interoperability actually dates to the Stone Age. How did we do business in the Stone Age? Say your tribe was on the coast, so you had fish. You were getting tired of fish, so you and your tribemates decided to pack up some fish and bring the bundle to the next village where they had fruit. You showed up at the village market, only you had no common language. So what did you do? You held up some fish, pointed to some fruit, grunted, and waved your hands. If you established a basis of communication, you conducted business, and went home with some fruit. If not, then you went home empty handed (or you pulled out your clubs and attacked, but that’s another story). Cut to the 21st century, and little has changed. People still have to get together and establish a basis of communication as human beings in order to facilitate semantic interoperability. But fully automating such interoperability is as close as the next rainbow.

More Stories By Jason Bloomberg

Jason Bloomberg is the leading expert on architecting agility for the enterprise. As president of Intellyx, Mr. Bloomberg brings his years of thought leadership in the areas of Cloud Computing, Enterprise Architecture, and Service-Oriented Architecture to a global clientele of business executives, architects, software vendors, and Cloud service providers looking to achieve technology-enabled business agility across their organizations and for their customers. His latest book, The Agile Architecture Revolution (John Wiley & Sons, 2013), sets the stage for Mr. Bloomberg’s groundbreaking Agile Architecture vision.

Mr. Bloomberg is perhaps best known for his twelve years at ZapThink, where he created and delivered the Licensed ZapThink Architect (LZA) SOA course and associated credential, certifying over 1,700 professionals worldwide. He is one of the original Managing Partners of ZapThink LLC, the leading SOA advisory and analysis firm, which was acquired by Dovel Technologies in 2011. He now runs the successor to the LZA program, the Bloomberg Agile Architecture Course, around the world.

Mr. Bloomberg is a frequent conference speaker and prolific writer. He has published over 500 articles, spoken at over 300 conferences, Webinars, and other events, and has been quoted in the press over 1,400 times as the leading expert on agile approaches to architecture in the enterprise.

Mr. Bloomberg’s previous book, Service Orient or Be Doomed! How Service Orientation Will Change Your Business (John Wiley & Sons, 2006, coauthored with Ron Schmelzer), is recognized as the leading business book on Service Orientation. He also co-authored the books XML and Web Services Unleashed (SAMS Publishing, 2002), and Web Page Scripting Techniques (Hayden Books, 1996).

Prior to ZapThink, Mr. Bloomberg built a diverse background in eBusiness technology management and industry analysis, including serving as a senior analyst in IDC’s eBusiness Advisory group, as well as holding eBusiness management positions at USWeb/CKS (later marchFIRST) and WaveBend Solutions (now Hitachi Consulting).

@MicroservicesExpo Stories
"We've just seen a huge influx of new partners coming into our ecosystem, and partners building unique offerings on top of our API set," explained Seth Bostock, Chief Executive Officer at IndependenceIT, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 16th Cloud Expo, held June 9-11, 2015, at the Javits Center in New York City.
SYS-CON Events announced today that HPM Networks will exhibit at the 17th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on November 3–5, 2015, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. For 20 years, HPM Networks has been integrating technology solutions that solve complex business challenges. HPM Networks has designed solutions for both SMB and enterprise customers throughout the San Francisco Bay Area.
Container technology is sending shock waves through the world of cloud computing. Heralded as the 'next big thing,' containers provide software owners a consistent way to package their software and dependencies while infrastructure operators benefit from a standard way to deploy and run them. Containers present new challenges for tracking usage due to their dynamic nature. They can also be deployed to bare metal, virtual machines and various cloud platforms. How do software owners track the usag...
The Software Defined Data Center (SDDC), which enables organizations to seamlessly run in a hybrid cloud model (public + private cloud), is here to stay. IDC estimates that the software-defined networking market will be valued at $3.7 billion by 2016. Security is a key component and benefit of the SDDC, and offers an opportunity to build security 'from the ground up' and weave it into the environment from day one. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Reuven Harrison, CTO and Co-Founder of Tufin,...
One of the ways to increase scalability of services – and applications – is to go “stateless.” The reasons for this are many, but in general by eliminating the mapping between a single client and a single app or service instance you eliminate the need for resources to manage state in the app (overhead) and improve the distributability (I can make up words if I want) of requests across a pool of instances. The latter occurs because sessions don’t need to hang out and consume resources that could ...
Alibaba, the world’s largest ecommerce provider, has pumped over a $1 billion into its subsidiary, Aliya, a cloud services provider. This is perhaps one of the biggest moments in the global Cloud Wars that signals the entry of China into the main arena. Here is why this matters. The cloud industry worldwide is being propelled into fast growth by tremendous demand for cloud computing services. Cloud, which is highly scalable and offers low investment and high computational capabilities to end us...
You often hear the two titles of "DevOps" and "Immutable Infrastructure" used independently. In his session at DevOps Summit, John Willis, Technical Evangelist for Docker, covered the union between the two topics and why this is important. He provided an overview of Immutable Infrastructure then showed how an Immutable Continuous Delivery pipeline can be applied as a best practice for "DevOps." He ended the session with some interesting case study examples.
Digital Transformation is the ultimate goal of cloud computing and related initiatives. The phrase is certainly not a precise one, and as subject to hand-waving and distortion as any high-falutin' terminology in the world of information technology. Yet it is an excellent choice of words to describe what enterprise IT—and by extension, organizations in general—should be working to achieve. Digital Transformation means: handling all the data types being found and created in the organizat...
JavaScript is primarily a client-based dynamic scripting language most commonly used within web browsers as client-side scripts to interact with the user, browser, and communicate asynchronously to servers. If you have been part of any web-based development, odds are you have worked with JavaScript in one form or another. In this article, I'll focus on the aspects of JavaScript that are relevant within the Node.js environment.
Approved this February by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), HTTP/2 is the first major update to HTTP since 1999, when HTTP/1.1 was standardized. Designed with performance in mind, one of the biggest goals of HTTP/2 implementation is to decrease latency while maintaining a high-level compatibility with HTTP/1.1. Though not all testing activities will be impacted by the new protocol, it's important for testers to be aware of any changes moving forward.
This week, I joined SOASTA as Senior Vice President of Performance Analytics. Given my background in cloud computing and distributed systems operations — you may have read my blogs on CNET or GigaOm — this may surprise you, but I want to explain why this is the perfect time to take on this opportunity with this team. In fact, that’s probably the best way to break this down. To explain why I’d leave the world of infrastructure and code for the world of data and analytics, let’s explore the timing...
Learn how to solve the problem of keeping files in sync between multiple Docker containers. In his session at 16th Cloud Expo, Aaron Brongersma, Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Modulus, discussed using rsync, GlusterFS, EBS and Bit Torrent Sync. He broke down the tools that are needed to help create a seamless user experience. In the end, can we have an environment where we can easily move Docker containers, servers, and volumes without impacting our applications? He shared his results so yo...
Auto-scaling environments, micro-service architectures and globally-distributed teams are just three common examples of why organizations today need automation and interoperability more than ever. But is interoperability something we simply start doing, or does it require a reexamination of our processes? And can we really improve our processes without first making interoperability a requirement for how we choose our tools?
Cloud Migration Management (CMM) refers to the best practices for planning and managing migration of IT systems from a legacy platform to a Cloud Provider through a combination professional services consulting and software tools. A Cloud migration project can be a relatively simple exercise, where applications are migrated ‘as is’, to gain benefits such as elastic capacity and utility pricing, but without making any changes to the application architecture, software development methods or busine...
The Internet of Things. Cloud. Big Data. Real-Time Analytics. To those who do not quite understand what these phrases mean (and let’s be honest, that’s likely to be a large portion of the world), words like “IoT” and “Big Data” are just buzzwords. The truth is, the Internet of Things encompasses much more than jargon and predictions of connected devices. According to Parker Trewin, Senior Director of Content and Communications of Aria Systems, “IoT is big news because it ups the ante: Reach out ...
At DevOps Summit NY there’s been a whole lot of talk about not just DevOps, but containers, IoT, and microservices. Sessions focused not just on the cultural shift needed to grow at scale with a DevOps approach, but also made sure to include the network ”plumbing” needed to ensure success as applications decompose into the microservice architectures enabling rapid growth and support for the Internet of (Every)Things.
Our guest on the podcast this week is Adrian Cockcroft, Technology Fellow at Battery Ventures. We discuss what makes Docker and Netflix highly successful, especially through their use of well-designed IT architecture and DevOps.
Explosive growth in connected devices. Enormous amounts of data for collection and analysis. Critical use of data for split-second decision making and actionable information. All three are factors in making the Internet of Things a reality. Yet, any one factor would have an IT organization pondering its infrastructure strategy. How should your organization enhance its IT framework to enable an Internet of Things implementation? In his session at @ThingsExpo, James Kirkland, Red Hat's Chief Arch...
Public Cloud IaaS started its life in the developer and startup communities and has grown rapidly to a $20B+ industry, but it still pales in comparison to how much is spent worldwide on IT: $3.6 trillion. In fact, there are 8.6 million data centers worldwide, the reality is many small and medium sized business have server closets and colocation footprints filled with servers and storage gear. While on-premise environment virtualization may have peaked at 75%, the Public Cloud has lagged in adop...
MuleSoft has announced the findings of its 2015 Connectivity Benchmark Report on the adoption and business impact of APIs. The findings suggest traditional businesses are quickly evolving into "composable enterprises" built out of hundreds of connected software services, applications and devices. Most are embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and microservices technologies like Docker. A majority are integrating wearables, like smart watches, and more than half plan to generate revenue with ...