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Re: [DotGNU]Implement RDF in a Universal Data Structure

From: Norbert Bollow
Subject: Re: [DotGNU]Implement RDF in a Universal Data Structure
Date: Tue, 1 Apr 2003 00:08:11 +0200 (CEST)

Seth Johnson <address@hidden> wrote:

> Norbert Bollow wrote:
> > 
> > Seth Johnson <address@hidden> wrote:
> > 
> > > But the truth is, the whole database industry is unaware that this
> > > is a possibility.
> > 
> > How can you be sure that they're not busy filing patent applications
> > while we speak?
> I am less concerned about this, because what I'm doing is intended to be
> "pure."  I explicitly leave out anything that is esoteric.  What I mean is,
> the formulation of the universal data structure is the pursuit of science,
> knowledge that should not be owned, because as such it can't be owned.

I agree 100%.  But I don't think that we can expect the USPTO or the
US court system to agree with this.

> Then again, this is also why I only speak of this thing at a
> surface level.

I don't think that that helps.  You shared enough of the idea that
now many people would be able to *steal* the idea from you and from
the Free Software community as a whole, by putting it into different
language, working out some details, and then patenting it.

The real protection from the threat of patents is not to keep silent
about good new ideas but rather to publish them.  Explain them in
words and pseudocode, in enough detail that any decent programmer
will understand what would need to be programmed.

> > I don't agree with what you say here about "implementing the CLR .NET
> > kind of thing" being "DotGNU's basic inspiration".   I think that it's
> > much closer to the truth to say that "DotGNU's basic inspiration is
> > that in every matter, there should be multiple good options that do
> > not require any sacrifice of freedom".
> Very good.  A universal application server should intrigue you.

Of course it does.

But experience tells me that whenever one is trying to make something
truly universal, chances are that real-world applications will be few
and far between.

Newtonian physics is far from universal, but it has lots of practical
applications.  If you want a reasonably universal theory of
gravitation, you need to take one of the variants of Einstein's theory
of general relativity (which so far AFAIK has just one application in
applied engineering), or even a theory that would also account for
quantum gravitational effects - such a theory does not exist yet, and
if there was one I'm sure that it would not have any practical

The same phenomenon in mathematics:  Linear mappings are a really,
really special case, but they have a lot of practical applications.
It's with good reason that every engineer must learn some linear
algebra.  Nonlinear mappings are more general, but if you want a
truly universal structure, take an abstract notion of classes (in
case you're not into mathematics, that's something similar to a set,
just much more general) in a reasonable axiomatic framework of set
theory.  Then you have something truly universal, but it's so unwieldy
that very few mathematicians want to have anything to do with proper
classes.  ("proper class" means a class which is not a set.  Think of
a proper class as something that has more elements than can fit into
any set.  An example is the class of all sets.  This cannot be a set,
because then there'd be a subset of all sets x with the property "x is
not an element of x", and a contradiction would follow from that.)

Now you're claiming that computer science is the big exception to this
rule.  That a universal application server can be constructed which
acts on a universal data structure without incurring huge performance
penalities or requiring unreasonably big amounts of memory or any
other drawback that will make it useless in practice.  If such a beast
is possible, I'll consider that a *huge* surprise.  Of course computer
science is young enough a science that it's not unreasonable to expect
that it'll still have some big surprises in store for us.

> > In my mind, the cognitive dissonance starts already when something is
> > called "universal". :-)
> Yep.  I know.  Yet this is what science aspires to.  It's certainly
> better to postulate theorems than to refuse to imagine any truths
> might exist.

Postulating theorems is relatively easy; the hard part is to show
that the claims are true.  Also note that with every instance of
"universal" that you introduce into your claims, you make that
difficult task *much* harder.  If you can introduce one instance of
"universal" into your claim and still prove it while at the same time
having a practically useful system, I will consider your
accomplishment worthy of a Nobel prize.  However your claim contains
even two instances of "universal" ("universal application server" and
"universal data structure"), that makes it totally outrageous in my
eyes.  I think it's much more likely that it will turn out that there
is a pretty general (but not universal) data structure and a way to do
something worthwhile (but pretty specialized) with it.

Greetings, Norbert.

Founder & Steering Committee member of
Free Software Business Strategy Guide   --->
Norbert Bollow, Weidlistr.18, CH-8624 Gruet (near Zurich, Switzerland)
Tel +41 1 972 20 59        Fax +41 1 972 20 69

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