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"Just" Semantics? Navy Aims To Put Data in Context

December 17, 2010
By Beverly Schaeffer

If the U.S. Navy's Information Dominance Corps (IDC) has its way, Web users won't have to rely any longer on analysts to correlate and interpret cross-disciplinary data. The semantic Web will pull together data from subjects as diverse and different in nature as geographics, intelligence, logistics and manpower-and make sense out of it for users. In his article, "Navy Prepares to Take an Important First Step," in this issue of SIGNAL Magazine, author Paul A. Strassmann delves into the IDC's plans to develop the semantic Web. Its purpose: to make it possible for the IDC network to connect useful information from tens of thousands of databases automatically. Real, flesh-and-blood human analysts currently have to surf numerous incompatible databases to collect, collate and decipher information. The work is so cumbersome that the number of analysts required would exceed whatever is manageable or affordable. Factoring in the tens of thousands of sensors and the presence of thousands of computing devices in the global Navy/Marine Corps network, the IDC believes it's clear that "automated" semantic technology is the answer. Semantic techniques rely on extracting the meaning of data from its related context. Such context is obtained by appending to each original data source a long list of related information. These are called data ontologies-formal statements that describe a particular data element. Strings of ontologies connect the scattered dots of seemingly random military data and reveal the hidden meaning of transactions. Over the next decade, the IDC computing environment should consist of a distributed but highly redundant global network, where various nodes would collect information from every platform that acts as a data collector. This includes desktops, laptops, smart phones, battlefield texting communications, unmanned aircraft video images, satellite pictures and radar tracking. A selection from this data would be provided to appropriate persons because the network would possess situational awareness about each warfighter. The projected size of IDC data files supporting semantic processes likely will exceed currently available space by a huge amount. At maturity, it would require storing a data stream totaling at least a thousand terabytes per hour, or more than 20 petabytes per day-comparable to the processing load of search engine Google. Google and IDC differ only in that the Navy requires higher system uptime to support warfare conditions. Ontologies in the semantic Web also will form the foundation on which fuzzy logic, artificial intelligence, neural networks and heuristic searching can be adopted. As such, the semantic Web should be viewed as another-but very important-steppingstone in the evolution of computer-based reasoning-the type that's provided by the current Web. It cannot be delayed. The semantic Web's ultimate objective is to endow everyone with the capacity to compile, assess and exploit data for decision making. The Navy's IDC is working toward this goal with the belief that only a semantic approach-where the computer network relates data to its local situation-can deliver that outcome. Agree or disagree? Share you input here.

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