And then God made ...

The 10th of February 2004 will go down in the history of the human race as a normal day at the office. But for those software intelligences that follow on from us, Genesis will read like this...

Last month marked a signficant milestone in the development of the Semantic Web, with the World Wide Web Consortium giving final approval of two key technologies. Those are Resource Description Framework (RDF) and the Web Ontology Language (OWL), web standards that provide a framework for asset management, enterprise integration and the sharing and reuse of data on the web.

The 10th of February 2004 will go down in the history of the human race as a normal day at the office.

But for those software intelligences that follow on from us, Genesis will read like this.

On the first day, God made the universe.

On the second day, God made man.

On the third day, God made the computer.

On the fourth day, God made the internet.

On the fifth day, God defined RDF and OWL.

On the sixth day, God defined all logic rules in OWL.

On the seventh day, God published all the data in the world in RDF.

On the eighth day, God and Man rested while the software agents had a ball.

Creating artificial intelligence obviously takes a little more time than creating man.

For poor humans, however, the arrival of two more acronyms will be greeted with all the enthusiasm of an overcoat salesman arriving at a beach volleyball competition. These coats are heavy, guys. Every acronym comes with enough reading to fill those empty hours.

If you are the sort of person who likes to curl up in bed with a good computer manual, then these acronyms are for you. But as the dawn light fills the air with the sound of bird song, you may come to realise that it was a pretty simple plot after all.

RDF describes relationships between thingees. OWL describes logic rules about thingees.

The politically correct name for thingee is URI. This is a sort of virtual URL that can point to absolutely anything, not just a web document (eg www.idg.co.nz/authors/12345#leftbigtoe)

You might think that someone’s left big toe is not deserving of a URI all to itself. But whether it deserves a URI or not, with the power invested in us by RDF, that big toe can now have a relationship with any other URI in the universe. Scary stuff. What happens when we are asleep?

If you want to constrain your big toe from inappropriate relationships, you can tie it up all night or you can cast a few spells over it with OWL. OWL lets you constrain it from having a relationship with anything other than feet, other toes and perhaps footwear.

So what is the purpose of RDF/OWL? The answer is not "42", as has been suggested elsewhere, but "bottle-shops". It is 8.50pm you have run out of beer and you know that some of the bottle shops shut at 9pm. If you phone around, it will take too long and they might shut. What you really want is to be able to ask your browser, "Where is the nearest bottle shop that I can get to before closing time if I drive within the speed limit?"

Reynolds is an Auckland developer.

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