Saturday 18 July 2015

Hello Africa! Meet The Semantic Web

Or you may call it Smart or Open Data!

Hello Africa! How are you doing?

My dear sisters and brothers, please allow me to introduce you to the Semantic Web and to Linked Open Data.

The Semantic Web was developed primarily out of Linked Open Data and other similar technologies, but it has now evolved and impacts many different fields, including Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Predictive Analysis, Big Data, etc.

These are things that I strongly believe you should embrace with all seriousness and diligence in order to achieve that desperately needed change for yourself, your family, your community, your country, and our entire continent.

I am talking about the type of change that starts within the mind, and then spreads to affect most aspects of one’s life; and yes, even your financial welfare.

The Irony In Saying All You Need Is Money

When I tell most people how exciting the Semantic Web and linked Open Data can be, and that we would be more or less teaching computers and other machines to understand us, they are typically unimpressed.

Most times people ask me, "How does that put money in my pocket right now?" Or, “What  Machines are learning is not my priority. I just need to make money!”

And while it is indeed a pressing reality that we have serious welfare issues in most parts of Africa, I find it quite sad that many of us seem to be under the impression, that by merely talking about how important money is, this would somehow grab it and fling it into our pockets.

Anyway, let me share with you what I usually say to some of my young Nigerian friends that engage me in this frequently recurring discussion:

Here is my own argument:

"Try to remember 5 years ago: Were you not as aware then, as you are now, of how important money was?" 
You probably dismissed discussions of this kind back then as well, am I right?


"So how rich have you gotten now? I mean from keeping your realization about money undefiled by such "unprofitable thoughts" of future technologies or of even simpler things like blogging - about your own interests and passions?

But the more important question is, “will this exclusive regard for money and your exclusion of matters of the Web ensure that you have lots of money 5 years from now???

Think about it......"

At this point I usually just get blank stares.

But here's my suggested alternative:

(and I am now talking to YOU, the reader, and anyone you care to share this information with)

If you start to pay active attention to the Semantic Web, or Linked Open Data or Machine Learning and so forth, from right now; in 5 years time, you would have most likely mastered at least one of these Semantic Web or Smart Data related skills.
And while, I cannot promise that you'll be as rich as those few Africans that are mentioned in Fortune Magazine by then, I can assure you that you would be much better off than you are today; Regardless of whether African rulers remain corrupt and vision-less kleptomaniacs or not.
But most of all, you would possess skills that will get increasingly significant as time goes on, and as Africa continues to develop at these current amazing rates of growth.
This is irreversible wealth, in my humble opinion; more reliable than hoping for some miraculous contract from some government official that happens to know your cousin's mother-in-law.

What Is The Semantic Web?

Mind you, these days, the Semantic Web and its surrounding technologies are often referred to as Smart Data – perhaps mainly because it has transcended The Web. 

But since they say life started from the sea, I might as well help you to begin your journey from there......where it all started:
(the Web is the sea in this context, just in case)

The Semantic Web was the vision of Tim Berners-Lee, the man who invented the World Wide Web. It grew out of Berners-Lee’s inspired Linked Open Data community (World Wide Web Consortium or the W3C) which developed and maintains the standards behind most of the technologies of the Semantic Web.

Before this movement, there was a lot of data published on the web (both quantitative and qualitative data). But most of it was only understandable to people. The open data community was motivated to encourage people to publish their data in a way that machines can understand and consume them. 
The idea is that machines can do much more with data than humans.

So the W3C also encouraged linking data to data with clearly defined relationships. When these links are authoritative and trustworthy (as David Amerland loves to say - more on him later) then this is where the magic of the Semantic Web truly begins. Because there is no point with machines doing wonderful stuff with data that are lies now is there? That only means that the lies would be more believable and more widely accepted. And we don't want that!

Anyway, these data are essentially linked to other data to produce a gigantic graph of facts and relationships, so that software applications can follow these links, consume the data, “grow smarter” and serve us humans much more effectively as a result. 
This is expected to lead to unprecedented levels of knowledge and power for the human race in general.

Trust is the final by-product of all this. 
Here's the thing, all of this which we can calculate in microseconds in most given situations, are also machine-calculable in an algorithmic trust score that can determine the trustworthiness of a source of data and, by inference, the veracity of the data itself.
David Amerland

Not A Replacement

One common misconception that could kill an average person’s interest in the Semantic Web is the notion that it is going to be an advanced replacement for the present World Wide Web.

The problem is, many of you are confused enough about the present World Wide Web as it is. You don't need a more “advanced” replacement!
I would imagine that you even secretly wish that this current Web you are used to would become more simple.
And that is exactly what the Semantic Web or Smart Data will do for the average user: Make things SIMPLE.

So the reality is that the Semantic Web is NOT “going to be” anything. It is already here now, and it already is this amazing technology that does not replace the current Web; it rather integrates with it and improves your experience of it remarkably.

Think of it as the same Web, only grown up; and is now influencing other areas of life beyond The Web (i.e. The Internet of Things, cognitive computing, image/object recognition, etc).   

You see, the billions of documents, apps and media that are currently linked to each other on the Web in its traditional form would still all be here, only that they can now be understood by computers and (potentially) other machines, as they are understood by humans.

This means greatly improved collaboration between humans and machines in the future

Kingsley Idehen speaks on RDF as the Linked Open Data essential

But You Don't Want To Be Like A Machine!!!

I understand!
And the truth is that the adjective “Semantic” has to do with the divergences between the meanings of words or symbols.
This is
not about you or anyone else being compelled to understand the technical nuances of the World Wide Web; Nor are you expected to know code. (even though this will not hurt you one bit!)

It is about the Semantic networks and the machines that are designed to work within this framework effectively learning what is published on the Web, through the meanings of the facts and data published. 

This is why you have been coming across the term “machine learning” so frequently of recent. You see, it is the MACHINES that are doing most of the learning here, NOT necessarily YOU. 

So even if you are never going to go into the technical aspects of these things, learning as much as you can as it relates to the industry you are in, will give you an edge in future. Trust me.

How Can Africa Benefit From The Semantic Web

I am personally of the opinion that the 6 most significant problems that plague the Continent are in the areas of:

1. Good Governance (i.e. we have many corrupt and visionless rulers) 

2. Knowledge/Skill Acquisition (terribly and widely underrated)

3. Food Production & Distribution (much hunger persists)

4. Basic Health Care (is lacking)

5. Clean Water (I’ve written about this before – see here)

6. Electricity (as the mother of all basic infrastructure)

2 of these problems have immediate solutions from the Semantic Web, numbers 1 and 2.

Good governance thrives in an atmosphere of accountability and transparency. Not that it can solve corruption, or stop kleptomaniacs from stealing. I mean that Open Data projects have brought in a greater sense of accountability in many parts of the world, and can surely do it here as well.
Kenya even has some interesting stories on this.

As for skill acquisition, think of Google’s Semantic technologies (i.e. the Knowledge Graph and Semantic Search) and how they are enhancing people’s ability to find the most relevant learning material to them. And Google are not the only ones that are improving at this: Think of LinkedIn published posts, Medium, Quora, and the millions of instructional videos posted all over the web. To say that my rate of learning has increased phenomenally along the Web would be an understatement. 
And yet, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

Africa must take advantage of the openness and “freeness” of these things. 
We would go out of our ways to invest lots of our parents money on many years of traditional education, but we are too lazy to learn online for free.

Here is a video I love to share, that gives a glimpse of what The traditional Web could do. Then consider what the evolved Web would be able to do as it gets smarter!

Meanwhile, there is enough evidence to believe that the solutions to the other 4 problems will come from the first 2, and that the growth of the Semantic Web and related technologies like Artificial Intelligence and the Internet Of Things will speed up this process.

Fear Not And Share This

Another thing I feel I must mention is that I have met many people who are afraid of The Web as a whole. American movies like The Terminator series and The Matrix sometimes get people worked up and they feel that these things are dangerous.

Now, i can't tell you that machine learning and all that stuff isn't dangerous. But look at it this way, if we decide not to get involved in the Open Data future, would that stop it from going on?

And by the way, let me just say now that if you are an African reading this post, and you have gotten this far in the text, then chances are you are already in the frame of mind that I am trying to project here.

This document is actually then intended for your younger sister, who just finished from University; and insists that she will not touch another book or read another piece of text again. 

It is for your 22 year old cousin, who does nothing but sits around with his friends all day long, arguing about European football players’ salaries.

You need to tailor or repackage this message for them. You need to convince them to read this post.  You need to make them develop a 5 year plan for their future. Even if it is not Open Data, they must acquire skills that would be relevant to these!

Finally, I am going to ask you to turn to the twin article I have written together with this one. It contains a few technical terms and a few explanations just to get you to wrap your head around the basics, to get you started on this amazing journey.

In it, you'll find the 3 pillars of the Semantic Web, which are…





I tried my best to simplify them for a non-tech audience in that post, because I remember how tedious it felt the first time I heard terms like Ontologies and Taxonomies.

And now I wish to introduce you to a few of the people that I count to be very important if you decided to follow along on this journey. 

They are:

Sir, Ammon Johns – was the first Google search result for the search phrase, “Internet Marketing Consultant”. That should say a lot about many things. 
He does not purposefully teach about the Semantic Web, but I included him because his deep knowledge of the web in general is incredible. That's why I always include him. :-) (Sir Johns is on Google Plus)
When you read his posts and hear his comments about The Web and about marketing, you would understand.

Aaron Bradley – like Sir Johns above, is more of an internet marketing consultant with SEO specialization. He is also a Semantic Web developer who has been of muich help to me on my journey so far. On Google Plus

David Amerland – Fantastic communicator, thought leader and a fountain of knowledge in this area and others. He focuses more on Semantic Search (don’t forget the machines are the ones doing the understanding); usually from a Google Search approach. Think about it this way, Google is perhaps 95% search share holder in Africa, so obviously this is important.

Bill Slawski – has a law degree which he uses together with his scientific mind to break down Google patents and extract extremely valuable knowledge that never ceases to amaze. Keeping up with Mr Slawski will take you ahead of the game, because many of Google’s recent patents are related to these Semantic Web technologies.

Barbara Starr – Another top notch expert in the Semantic Web space. She is beauty and brains, and she even knows the brains of computers (i.e. she knows artificial intelligence). 
Barbara Star is from South Africa by the way.  :-)

Brian Sletten – A multi-talented scientist with an incredibly easy-to-follow style of explaining this Semantic Web stuff. (Well perhaps that could depend on what you already know about the Semantic Web).
Follow him today to keep up with his 5-part series on some rich linked data instruction.

Teodora Petkova – Content writer (freelance) and thing finder, and Semantic Web super enthusiast like myself. Her blog was were my Semantic Web journey started. Her posts on Google+ are also true to her title of “thing finder”.
Unlike the experienced experts on this list, one valuable thing you can learn from Teodora and me is how to remain interested and not get weary of keeping up with all of the technical jargon that could discourage the average person. I suggest you follow her on Google+ as well.

Kingsley Uyi Idehen (those of you from Edo State in Nigeria are familiar with this name.) who, along with Teodora, has played the biggest role in my journey so far. 
Let me just say that you need to circle him on Google+ as well. Right now! 
As I leave you with his quote on Linked Data and its technologies
(the one that really got me to sit up):

VERY IMPORTANT: If this article interested you, even just a little bit, then please do not waste anymore time. Knowledge is extremely valuable. Get in touch with me right now. God knows that we Africans need to take advantage of this opportunity as quickly as possible, while it is not yet so widespread even in most of the Developed world.

Finally, if you are an artist or social scientist like myself, and you are wondering why you should be taking this journey, then please take my advice:
......the computer jargon and the code noise will quickly wear-off, and you will soon begin to see how much more of our world is in here.  

When I first joined Google Plus, and started following math and computer science experts, I felt like an "English-man in New York". 
But these days, I honestly feel as if these computer science guys are mere intruders in my home. 
Hahaha! :-D 

I would be glad to help you make this journey much easier and even enjoyable for you. I am sincerely here to help.  I am mostly active on GooglePlus, and then Facebook, then LinkedIn and Twitter. But you can still find me on Pinterest as well.

Have a great week, and hope to hear from you soon!

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