I am an ontologist. An ontologist develops a representation of the world with respect to what exists and what relationships hold between things that exist.

The field of Ontology studies what exists with respect to its existence and manner of existing (“being qua being”). This includes discussing what types exist, in what manner instances exist, and the logical and real relations that hold between things. One ontological question that goes back to Plato and Aristotle is whether kinds and categories are real, and how to account for the unity of certain groupings.

An ontology (lower-case ‘o’) is a representation of a domain of things, providing a logically consistent taxonomy of those things, a controlled lexicon defining what they are, and axioms for relationships between objects. An ontology can describe different portions of reality at differing levels of generality and granularity. A top-level domain ontology, for example, intends to bring every existing thing within its scope. It would define what a quality or a spatial region is, since these are so generic. A lower-level domain ontology (e.g., in a modular suite), focuses on a narrower range of natural or artificial objects, such as biomedical entities like HER2-receptor gene and cardiovascular process and act of informed consent, or mortgage documents like promissory note and HUD-1 settlement statement and act of selling.

The field of ontology is inherently interdisciplinary. The most successful ontologies follow principles that ensure different domains of knowledge cohere, to promote semantic interoperability. This buzzword is about solving the Tower of Babel problem, where different people and organizations are less effective at working together and communicating, because they aren’t synchronized in the meaning and use of different terms to describe the world. This discipline was historically formulated within philosophy, but now is at the heart of information systems and formal principles in database management. While ontology can be informed by principles derived from philosophy, the practical application is borne out in the fields like biomedical informatics (e.g., genomic data, electronic health records, etc.), web search services (e.g., Siri, Amazon, etc.), and military intelligence (e.g., unified planning and operations manuals, tracking terrorist activity, etc.).

Projects I’ve had my hand in

Expanding the representation of Document Acts

What is a document act? It is an intentional act that changes social arrangements by means of a document. A deontic role is a social role that inheres in an agent (an individual, aggregate of individuals, or an organization) that is grounded in the normative expectations of others. Some document acts can only be performed…