Sunday, June 22, 2008

Wicked Problems

Wicked Problems have incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements; and solutions to them are often difficult to recognize as such because of complex interdependencies. Rittel and Webber stated that while attempting to solve a wicked problem, the solution of one of its aspects may reveal or create other, even more complex problems.

Addressing or trying to define the elements of a wicked problem could be one of the potential uses of the semantic framework.

Specific examples of wicked Problems / social messes include issues such as global climate change, healthcare in the United States and elsewhere, the AIDS epidemic and perhaps other emerging diseases, pandemic influenza, international drug trafficking, homeland security, and nuclear energy and waste.

Rittel and Webber's (1973) formulation of wicked problems[2] specifies ten characteristics, perhaps best considered in the context of social policy planning. According to Ritchey (2007)[3], the ten characteristics are:

  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but better or worse.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial-and-error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong (planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
The semantic framework will not in itself solve a wicked problem. It will instead define each of the elements of a wicked problem. How those definitions are developed, and how to get people to agree to the definitions will all continue to remain problems and would still require the use of the frameworks like "Issues Based Information System" (IBIS). A Semantic framework could form the underlying framework for using an IBIS-type system.

I will continue to explore what software tools exist to document wicked problems and whether a basic semantic framework can be developed using a combination of existing tools and frameworks.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Just circuits?

V.S. Ramachandran is a mesmerizing speaker, able to concretely and simply describe the most complicated inner workings of the brain. His investigations into phantom limb pain, synesthesia and other brain disorders allow him to explore (and begin to answer) the most basic philosophical questions about the nature of self and human consciousness.
This is a fascinating talk (as all TED Talks are). Leads to the question are we all just wired up like circuit boards? Can we rewire and short-circuit our hardware (brains) and more important can we hack the software that runs on the hardware?

Ramachandran is the director of the Center for Brain and Cognition at the University of California, San Diego, and an adjunct professor at the Salk Institute. He is the author of Phantoms in the Brain, the basis for a Nova special, and A Brief Tour of Human Consciousness; his next book, due out in January 2008, is called The Man with the Phantom Twin: Adventures in the Neuroscience of the Human Brain

Information Hunter Gatherers

Information gathering is only the latest iteration of the natural human tendency to be a hunter-gatherer. There is a strong compulsion to check in on new information. There is almost a primeval sense of anticipation as you fire up your email client and watch expectantly to see what new information your snare has caught. Sometimes the fare is meager, an email with the latest meme or the skateboarding pug from You Tube. At other times it is something more substantial that feeds the intellect and satisfies the age old urge to hunt and gather. Is the next logical progression to settle down, organize and cultivate? Has that already begun with consumer-created content, wikis and the rise of the prosumer?

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Knowledge Representation and the Semantic Web

The Semantic Web has been attracting considerable attention the last few years. From the point of view of Knowledge Representation, the Semantic Web affords opportunities for both research and application. However, several aspects of the Semantic Web, as it has been envisioned, cause problems from the Knowledge Representation viewpoint. Overcoming some of these problems has resulted in a more formal basis for the Semantic Web and an increase in expressive power in Semantic Web languages. Other of these problems still remain and need a new vision of the Semantic Web from a Knowledge Representation viewpoint