Ontology On My Mind

Like a kid who’s just learned a new word, I’m a little obsessed.

Y’see at work I’ve been engaged in a lot of debate about software testing process and software developer training process. In the process of discussing process I noticed that well over 70% of the discussion is spent clarifying terms. Because all process in my company is guided by a constellation of supervening documents dictating overlapping areas of software engineering, there has emerged a web of not-quite-analogous but semantically-overlapping terms that describe what we must do.

And it is very confusing for the average programmer to read the guiding constellation and figure out what’s required of him. So we have “process weenies” who interpret the documents and tell us what to do.

I say “weenie” but what they do is an invaluable service — they read the documents so everyone else doesn’t have to. Unfortunately the job of the process weenie is virtually shamanistic, requiring interpretations divined by communal consensus, ritual sacrifice, and a psycho-active drink that gets passed around in a hollowed-out guord.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a systematic way to derive shared meaning of similar terms in overlapping semantic contexts? Enter Ontology.

Apparently it’s used a lot in the A.I. world and there are even software process ontologies, but I’ve found nothing that directly helps me in my endeavors. But I’ve not given up on the idea.

So I’ve started with the basics of formal ontology and will work my way there. Now I’m seeing ontologies everywhere. I’m like the dude with the new hammer who thinks everything looks like a nail.

As they say, a fool with a tool is still a fool. And I’m feeling foolish.

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