DARPA aids machine-read Web projects

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which pioneered the Internet, is funding languages and tools for the Semantic Web, a World Wide Web Consortium project to make online documents machine-readable.

Teknowledge Corp. of Palo Alto, Calif., recently received a $634,057 addition to its existing $1 million DARPA contract to build an open-source search engine for the Semantic Web. The contract is part of a larger research project, DARPA Agent Markup Language, or DAML, which closely resembles a proposed W3C standard called OWL Web Ontology Language.

'Humans can read [the current Web], but most computer software cannot,' said Murray A. Burke, DARPA's program manager for DAML.

For example, Burke said, today's Web probably contains enough information to answer the question, 'How many heads of computer science departments at U.S. colleges hold degrees from Stanford University?' Current search engines, however, cannot easily find the answer.

Search engines seek character strings but don't understand the relationships between words and concepts, said Adam Pease, Teknowledge's director of knowledge systems.

DARPA started the DAML program nearly three years ago because most Defense Department systems are being built with Web technologies, Burke said.

All in a name

DAML is to the Semantic Web what HTML is to today's Web, Pease said. The agent markup language could enhance existing Web sites in much the same way that Extensible Markup Language makes Web services possible.

Pease estimated that the Semantic Web now has 6 million to 7 million sites'a number dwarfed by the billions of HTML Web sites.

The search service that Teknowledge is developing, dubbed the Agent Semantic Communication Service, will let users form queries more precise than text strings, Pease said.

The company hopes to build a market for DAML by giving away open-source code and later providing consulting services related to the Semantic Web, Pease said.

A beta version of the Agent Semantic Communication Service, written in Java and Prolog, is downloadable from reliant.teknowledge.com/DAML. Information about DAML appears at www.daml.org.

W3C's site for activities related to the Semantic Web is www.w3c.org/2001/sw.

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