Welcome!

Microservices Expo Authors: Liz McMillan, Derek Weeks, Elizabeth White, PagerDuty Blog, Pat Romanski

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
Microservices are a very exciting architectural approach that many organizations are looking to as a way to accelerate innovation. Microservices promise to allow teams to move away from monolithic "ball of mud" systems, but the reality is that, in the vast majority of organizations, different projects and technologies will continue to be developed at different speeds. How to handle the dependencies between these disparate systems with different iteration cycles? Consider the "canoncial problem" ...
After more than five years of DevOps, definitions are evolving, boundaries are expanding, ‘unicorns’ are no longer rare, enterprises are on board, and pundits are moving on. Can we now look at an evolution of DevOps? Should we? Is the foundation of DevOps ‘done’, or is there still too much left to do? What is mature, and what is still missing? What does the next 5 years of DevOps look like? In this Power Panel at DevOps Summit, moderated by DevOps Summit Conference Chair Andi Mann, panelists l...
When building DevOps or continuous delivery practices you can learn a great deal from others. What choices did they make, what practices did they put in place, and how did they connect the dots? At Sonatype, we pulled together a set of 21 reference architectures for folks building continuous delivery and DevOps practices using Docker. Why? After 3,000 DevOps professionals attended our webinar on "Continuous Integration using Docker" discussing just one reference architecture example, we recogn...
Hardware virtualization and cloud computing allowed us to increase resource utilization and increase our flexibility to respond to business demand. Docker Containers are the next quantum leap - Are they?! Databases always represented an additional set of challenges unique to running workloads requiring a maximum of I/O, network, CPU resources combined with data locality.
Thanks to Docker and the DevOps revolution, microservices have emerged as the new way to build and deploy applications — and there are plenty of great reasons to embrace the microservices trend. If you are going to adopt microservices, you also have to understand that microservice architectures have many moving parts. When it comes to incident management, this presents an important difference between microservices and monolithic architectures. More moving parts mean more complexity to monitor an...
In recent years, containers have taken the world by storm. Companies of all sizes and industries have realized the massive benefits of containers, such as unprecedented mobility, higher hardware utilization, and increased flexibility and agility; however, many containers today are non-persistent. Containers without persistence miss out on many benefits, and in many cases simply pass the responsibility of persistence onto other infrastructure, adding additional complexity.
Docker containers have brought great opportunities to shorten the deployment process through continuous integration and the delivery of applications and microservices. This applies equally to enterprise data centers as well as the cloud. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, Jari Kolehmainen, founder and CTO of Kontena, will discuss solutions and benefits of a deeply integrated deployment pipeline using technologies such as container management platforms, Docker containers, and the drone.io Cl tool...
The rise of containers and microservices has skyrocketed the rate at which new applications are moved into production environments today. While developers have been deploying containers to speed up the development processes for some time, there still remain challenges with running microservices efficiently. Most existing IT monitoring tools don’t actually maintain visibility into the containers that make up microservices. As those container applications move into production, some IT operations t...
In 2014, Amazon announced a new form of compute called Lambda. We didn't know it at the time, but this represented a fundamental shift in what we expect from cloud computing. Now, all of the major cloud computing vendors want to take part in this disruptive technology. In his session at 20th Cloud Expo, John Jelinek IV, a web developer at Linux Academy, will discuss why major players like AWS, Microsoft Azure, IBM Bluemix, and Google Cloud Platform are all trying to sidestep VMs and containers...
As Enterprise business moves from Monoliths to Microservices, adoption and successful implementations of Microservices become more evident. The goal of Microservices is to improve software delivery speed and increase system safety as scale increases. Documenting hurdles and problems for the use of Microservices will help consultants, architects and specialists to avoid repeating the same mistakes and learn how and when to use (or not use) Microservices at the enterprise level. The circumstance w...
SYS-CON Events announced today that CA Technologies has been named “Platinum Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY, and the 21st International Cloud Expo®, which will take place October 31-November 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA. CA Technologies helps customers succeed in a future where every business – from apparel to energy – is being rewritten by software. From ...
With 10 simultaneous tracks, keynotes, general sessions and targeted breakout classes, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo are two of the most important technology events of the year. Since its launch over eight years ago, Cloud Expo and @ThingsExpo have presented a rock star faculty as well as showcased hundreds of sponsors and exhibitors! In this blog post, I provide 7 tips on how, as part of our world-class faculty, you can deliver one of the most popular sessions at our events. But before reading the...
This week's news brings us further reminders that if you're betting on cloud, you're headed in the right direction. The cloud is growing seven times faster than the rest of IT, according to IDC, with a 25% spending increase just from 2016 to 2017. SaaS still leads the pack, with an estimated two-thirds of public cloud spending going that way. Large enterprises, with more than 1,000 employees, are predicted to account for more than half of cloud spending and have the fastest annual growth rate.
Microservices (μServices) are a fascinating evolution of the Distributed Object Computing (DOC) paradigm. Initial design of DOC attempted to solve the problem of simplifying developing complex distributed applications by applying object-oriented design principles to disparate components operating across networked infrastructure. In this model, DOC “hid” the complexity of making this work from the developer regardless of the deployment architecture through the use of complex frameworks, such as C...
@DevOpsSummit at Cloud taking place June 6-8, 2017, at Javits Center, New York City, is co-located with the 20th International Cloud Expo and will feature technical sessions from a rock star conference faculty and the leading industry players in the world. The widespread success of cloud computing is driving the DevOps revolution in enterprise IT. Now as never before, development teams must communicate and collaborate in a dynamic, 24/7/365 environment. There is no time to wait for long developm...
DevOps and microservices are permeating software engineering teams broadly, whether these teams are in pure software shops but happen to run a business, such Uber and Airbnb, or in companies that rely heavily on software to run more traditional business, such as financial firms or high-end manufacturers. Microservices and DevOps have created software development and therefore business speed and agility benefits, but they have also created problems; specifically, they have created software securi...
In today's enterprise, digital transformation represents organizational change even more so than technology change, as customer preferences and behavior drive end-to-end transformation across lines of business as well as IT. To capitalize on the ubiquitous disruption driving this transformation, companies must be able to innovate at an increasingly rapid pace. Traditional approaches for driving innovation are now woefully inadequate for keeping up with the breadth of disruption and change facing...
SYS-CON Events announced today that Outlyer, a monitoring service for DevOps and operations teams, has been named “Bronze Sponsor” of SYS-CON's 20th International Cloud Expo®, which will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, NY. Outlyer is a monitoring service for DevOps and Operations teams running Cloud, SaaS, Microservices and IoT deployments. Designed for today's dynamic environments that need beyond cloud-scale monitoring, we make monitoring effortless so you...
Cloud Expo, Inc. has announced today that Andi Mann and Aruna Ravichandran have been named Co-Chairs of @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo 2017. The @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo New York will take place on June 6-8, 2017, at the Javits Center in New York City, New York, and @DevOpsSummit at Cloud Expo Silicon Valley will take place Oct. 31-Nov. 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
All clouds are not equal. To succeed in a DevOps context, organizations should plan to develop/deploy apps across a choice of on-premise and public clouds simultaneously depending on the business needs. This is where the concept of the Lean Cloud comes in - resting on the idea that you often need to relocate your app modules over their life cycles for both innovation and operational efficiency in the cloud. In his session at @DevOpsSummit at19th Cloud Expo, Valentin (Val) Bercovici, CTO of Soli...