CIRSS Seminar - The Modifiability Puzzle
4:00 - 5:00
Description: We summarize presentations given at ASIS&T 2008 (Allen Renear, Karen Wickett, Dave Dubin) and Balisage 2009 and 2010 (Renear and Wickett) that analyze problems in our commonsense understanding of digital objects. The discussion of these problems began some years ago in the GSLIS Electronic Publishing Research Group and has more recently continued at times in the Conceptual Foundations Group. Related topics are now being actively pursued within the Data Concepts group (Dubin, Renear, Wickett, and Simone Sacchi) of the NSF funded Data Conservancy.
Abstract: The digital world seems to be a place of constant change. Documents are edited, databases updated, files modified, datasets reformatted, and so on. But apparently we are deluded. Standard theories of what digital objects are entail that those objects are immutable and cannot undergo any genuine modification at all. It gets worse. Arguments against modifiability do not apply only to digital objects and do not depend upon specialized definitions -- in a few simple steps ordinary beliefs lead to paradoxes about many things.
Embedded inconsistencies in our commonsense beliefs have long entertained philosophers, but our problem here is more than an idle Milesian amusement. While for the most part human beings manage quite well with inconsistent conceptual schemes, the emerging world of linked data and semantic technologies depends on precise definitions and straightforward logical reasoning, and carries out automatic inferencing, based on those definitions, often with few opportunities for human intervention and correction.
How can we reconcile our commonsense concepts of documents, databases, datasets, and the like with the unforgiving demands of semantic technologies? We believe this is a profound and urgent open question in information science and that the success of semantic technologies and linked data depends on its resolution. On Friday, we will not defend a specific answer but rather try to make the problem clear, and show that none of the known resolutions are without difficulties. We present you with the puzzle -- you tell us how to solve it.
Renear, A. H., Dubin, D. and Wickett, K. M. (2008), When digital objects change — exactly what changes?. Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology, 45:1-3. doi: 10.1002/meet.2008.14504503143
Renear, Allen H., and Karen M. Wickett. “Documents Cannot Be Edited.” Presented at Balisage: The Markup Conference 2009, Montréal, Canada, August 11-14, 2009. In Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2009. Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 3 (2009). doi:10.4242/BalisageVol3.Renear01.
Renear, Allen H., and Karen M. Wickett. “There are No Documents.” Presented at Balisage: The Markup Conference 2010, Montréal, Canada, August 3-6, 2010. In Proceedings of Balisage: The Markup Conference 2010. Balisage Series on Markup Technologies, vol. 5 (2010). doi:10.4242/BalisageVol5.Renear01.