What is the Semantic Web
The current World Wide Web (WWW) is, by its function, a syntactic web where the structure of the content has been presented while the content itself is inaccessible to computers. Although the WWW has resulted in a revolution in information exchange among computer applications, it still cannot provide interoperation among various applications without some pre-existing, human-created agreements outside the web.
The next generation of the Web (the Semantic Web) aims to alleviate such problems and provide specific solutions targeting concrete problems. Web resources will be more readily accessible by both human and computers with the added semantic information in a machine-understandable and machine-processable fashion. In this context, ontologies play a pivotal role by providing a source of shared and precisely defined terms that can be understood and processed by machines. A typical ontology consists of a hierarchical description of important concepts and their relations in a domain, task or service. The degree of formality employed in capturing these descriptions can be quite variable, ranging from natural language to logical formalisms, but increased formality and regularity clearly facilitate machine understanding.
The Semantic Web has the potential to significantly change our daily life due to the hidden intelligence provided for accessing services and large volumes of information. It will have a much higher impact on e-work and e-commerce than the current version of the web.
Scientific objectives. Society is moving from being information-based to knowledge-based. Gardner predicts that by 2010, most software will have some form of knowledge structure. Work is increasingly collaborative, and business and scientific endeavours are conducted in a global networked way. Knowledge is no longer held locally but is globally distributed. Data and information is growing exponentially in all sectors of society. Communities generate, model, augment, exchange and transform information so the information pool rapidly changes its content and structure. Most of the major scientific aims to achieve an all inclusive information society, networked business and government depend on distributed knowledge-based systems. Knowledge is the object of this European Academy; it is also a key enabler for providing the right reaction from the right person at the right moment. The European Academy for Semantic-Web Education will provide the technological basis for easier and efficient knowledge creation, sharing and exploitation: technologies at the heart of the knowledge economy.
Socio-economic objectives. One of the objectives of EU policies is to accelerate the transition to a competitive and dynamic knowledge economy (Lisbon Council, 2002) and to strengthen the competitiveness of European industry in the global economy (e.g. Council Decision of 25 June 1996). The European Academy for Semantic-Web Education significantly contributes to this objective generally by improving business effectiveness through harnessing corporate knowledge assets, and specifically by increasing EU competitiveness in e-commerce and enterprise integration. It does this by fundamental research into the next stage of ontology technologies, methodologies, languages and tools, in particular those for services, through its virtual research centre and practical demonstration of that research in the deployment of the Semantic Web.
The competitiveness of European companies will not only depend on how they access their knowledge, but also on the products and services they offer. The growth of a wide range of e-commerce services, both to individuals and between businesses, and the demand for these services, are contributing to the increasing international reality of information access and trading of products and services. Information suppliers and providers want to reach as many different customers as possible, independently of their nationality, whilst many end users prefer to be offered a huge range of products and services at lower cost of time and in their own language. The ability to find, interrogate and exchange knowledge is fundamental for e-commerce. The advertisement, discovery and negotiation of services requires a shared understanding and exchange of metadata, explicitly represented in a machine processable way.
The increasing importance of the Web, in all aspects of business and social life, necessitates that it is accessible to all members of society. As e-commerce becomes prevalent, many services will become accessible only online. Unless we lower the threshold of complexity for accessing these services, we are in danger of disenfranchising communities of people. The Semantic Web specifically tries to address a variety of users, ranging from skilled IT workers to the computer layperson (who is likely to be an expert in some other domain). The Semantic Web will help to hide, as much as possible, complex, technological issues from information users, thus widening the range of users who will be able to configure semantic information services for particular communities, schools, businesses, non-IT academic communities, etc. Providing knowledge to everyone in non proprietary formats that interoperate will enforce social cohesion. Lowering the costs for providing information that is timely, consistent and adaptable to the specific needs of different user groups is crucial to the democratization of information. More generally, Europe's international position will depend highly on its ability to develop and use the new information infrastructure based on online information services. This area of technology development (i.e., improving services in electronic networks) is currently one of the most competitive areas, and the position of Europe in domains such as web commerce, electronic business, and knowledge management will significantly influence its labour market, social affairs, its wealth and international influence.
Lowering the cost is also crucial for small and medium enterprises (SME): they cannot devote huge amounts of resource to gain access to information. Hence easy, cheap and electronic access to information as provided by the semantic web is prone to help them to be more innovative and competitive. Moreover, the advent of Semantic Web Services should help them to reach their market in the same easy, cheap and electronic way by providing Web Services.
The technologies promoted by the European Academy for Semantic-Web Education are equally relevant to e-education, e-government, e-science and e-culture; in fact any endeavour based on the publication of information by an information provider and the seeking of that information by a consumer. Bringing knowledge-based services to every home, every school and every business, the semantic web will provide the technological ground required for building eEurope2005 (European Commission, May 2002).
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