Europe’s semantic web projects start to mesh

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An international audience of over 220 semantic web specialists and enthusiasts from Europe, USA, Australia and Japan attended the 1st European Semantic Web Symposium (ESWS 2004) on 10-12 May in Heraklion, Crete (http://www.esws2004.org)

An international audience of over 220 semantic web specialists and enthusiasts from Europe, USA, Australia and Japan attended the 1st European Semantic Web Symposium (ESWS 2004) on 10-12 May in Heraklion, Crete (http://www.esws2004.org).

Keynote speaker Guus Schreiber, chair of the W3C Ontology best practices group and co-chair of the W3C Web Ontology group, underlined the importance of the recent approval of two key semantic web technologies, the revised Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), which provide standard formats for data sharing that spans application, enterprise, and community boundaries.

These developments mark the emergence of the semantic web as a broad-based, commercial-grade platform, and signal a shift in semantic web technology from a largely research and advanced development subject, to more practical technology deployed in mass market tools that enable more flexible access to structured data on the web.

In the press release announcing approval of the RDF and OWL standards, Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web, confirmed: "RDF and OWL make a strong foundation for semantic web applications. Their approval as W3C Recommendations comes at a time when new products are springing up in areas as diverse as Enterprise Integration and medical decision support. It's not unlike the early days of the web, when people saw how it worked, they understood its power. We're entering that phase now, where people can see the beginnings of the semantic web at work."

Current EU R&D funding policy is to support bigger and more ambitious projects designed to have significant impact in key strategic areas such as semantic-based knowledge systems. This was reflected in a panel session on funding strategies and future trends with Brian Macklin from the Information Society Directorate of the European Commission, Mark Greaves, DARPA Program Manager for DAML (DARPA Agent Markup Language) and William Harris, Director General of the Science Foundation Ireland.

Commenting on EU-funded projects, Brian Macklin said: "I'm very pleased that we have been able to provide a substantial amount of funding for this important area. It is encouraging to see that the projects are already working closely together to build critical mass, including recruiting many young researchers to the field. We will be encouraging future work to build on this growing momentum, while pushing research further towards automation of the knowledge lifecycle, towards achieving the same level of analytical capability across all content types, as well as to build systems to enable inter-working between organisations and communities".

ESWS 2004, which featured academic research papers, industrial papers, tutorials, posters and demonstrations, also showcased three major EU-funded semantic web projects – SEKT (Semantic Knowledge Technologies), DIP (Data, Information and Process Integration), and KnowledgeWeb. These projects form part of a natural ‘cluster’ collectively referred to as SDK.

The SDK projects have the mission:

  • to strengthen European Research and Industry in Semantic Web and Semantic Web Services;
  • to work towards international standardisation together with the US-based DAML initiative;
  • to promote research results to industry and academia;
  • to strengthen the world-wide research and standardisation in the areas of Semantic Web and Semantic Web Services.

SDK aims to accomplish this mission by ensuring the close co-operation between the three projects in the areas of Semantic Web and Semantic Web Services while at the same time supporting industry players by enabling them to implement the emerging technologies.

Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI), the co-ordinator of the DIP project, addresses the research problems and challenges of Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). Making disparate systems share information cost-effectively is a perennial problem for companies and represents billions of dollars in technology spending, with almost 30% of world-wide IT budgets dedicated to EAI type projects.

“Our major objective is to bring current web technology to its full potential through the close collaboration and co-operation of the SDK partners and ensuring the transfer of results to industry and academia in an efficient way through joint dissemination,” said Professor Dieter Fensel, the Scientific Director of DERI.

During the event, the DIP project stressed the role that semantic web service technologies can play in significantly reducing the cost and time factors for integrating systems. These are critical issues for many companies that have already automated several individual business processes, such as manufacturing or human resources, and that are now looking to automate cross-functional business processes which span a number of different systems.

SEKT (SEmantic Knowledge Technologies), another of the EU-funded projects featured at ESWS, is coordinated by BT the UK telecoms operator and a leader in the information communication technology market. Dr. John Davies, the SEKT project director said: "The World Wide Web today is full of unstructured text. That’s fine for people, but useless for computers. In this scenario, the computer isn’t actually doing much computation – it is really a presentation device. The Semantic Web will make web-based information machine-processable – a key area of research in SEKT. SEKT envisions knowledge workplaces where the boundaries between heterogeneous data sources are broken down, and where knowledge management is fully integrated into day-to-day business tasks. Appropriate knowledge will be automatically delivered to the right people at the right time at the right granularity via a range of user devices.”

Professor Rudi Studer from the University of Karlsruhe, SEKT’s Technical Director, explained that the project will integrate 3 key Semantic Web technologies: "The synergy between human language technology, machine learning techniques as well as ontology management methods will be exploited in order to generate in a semi-automatic way the ontological structures and related metadata that are needed for realizing Next Generation Knowledge Management solutions". The end result will be to enable greater productivity for knowledge workers across a wide range of professional disciplines and industrial sectors.

KnowledgeWeb, the third project in the trio of semantic web projects, is also funded by the Information Society Technologies (IST) Priority for Research, Technology Development & Demonstration under the 6th Framework Programme of the European Commission. The mission of KnowledgeWeb is to strengthen European industry and service providers in one of the most important areas of current computer technology: semantic web enabled e-work and e-commerce. The KnowledgeWeb network of excellence will focus effort around the outreach of semantic web technology to industry, education and research in order to ensure critical mass, maximum impact and full support from industry.

The 2nd ESWC event is scheduled for May 29 - June 1, 2005, in Heraklion, Crete, Greece.

CONTACT INFORMATION:

Contact Person:         Prof. Christoph Bussler

Organisation Name: Digital Enterprise Research Institute (DERI)

Phone Number:         +353-91-512460

Fax Number:             +353-91-512541

Website URL:            http://www.deri.ie/

For more information on the SDK cluster, visit http://www.sdk-cluster.org/
For more information on DIP, visit http://dip.semanticweb.org/
For more information on SEKT, visit http://sekt.semanticweb.org/
For more information on KnowledgeWeb, visit http://knowledgeweb.semanticweb.org/

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