Philosophers In The Enterprise: As Bacon Says, Knowledge Is Power

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Image courtesy: Flickr/ Ian W Scott

Teaching may seem the most obvious career choice for philosophy students. But it’s not the only one. Epistematica, which provides tools and services for Linked Data and semantic web applications, sees opportunities for philosophers at any organization that will be publishing Linked Data.

“Any organization that will want to be in the semantic web will need a philosopher,” says Dr. Marco Romano, Epistematica’s chief knowledge officer – a graduate in Philosophy at RomaTre University, who also has a Phd in Logic from Paris 13 University.

Why? “In order to produce a good ontology or even also a good vocabulary that can be really useful in the semantic web, that is to connect to Linked Data on the web of data, you need a philosopher, someone who can look at things on the web, to understand what they actually are and how to describe them in the most suitable way. That is, such that it is well-useable and understandable to machines, to services that will use that data, but also to the people [who will want] to find it.”

Someone trained in philosophy is appropriate for that, he says, because their course of study opens them up to analyzing objects from multiple perspectives, and mixing those perspectives together as needed – and also because they’re unlikely to have allegiances to specific programs, languages or systems that tech people trained in certain solutions might.

In fact, he says, that’s how another Epistematica employee trained in philosophy helped the company’s client, the European Space Agency, with a project to develop a semantic software application that allows more efficient access to its data via a portal. “If they have never considered something different from what they were used to with their tools and systems, then other possibilities were not attended to. They always tried to take the problem on the side of the technology they were used to,” he says, which could vary across the different sectors involved in the project.

Epistematica ultimately designed a semantic navigation and search solution within the ESA’s catalog of Earth Observation products that makes use of technologies based on logic, where pertinent terms are used but also properties and relations of products are described in a formal way to make automated reasoning possible. That way, customers can perform searches using all the knowledge ESA has across all its sectors, not just the ones they themselves are involved in. For example, users dealing with land monitoring might be interested in images of coastal lands that their partners operating in the marine environment field actually produce. The project continues into 2015.

While organizations might not yet be chomping at the bit yet for philosophical talent – especially smaller businesses, which are the predominant enterprise-type in Italy – the day is coming, Romano thinks. “The good experience we have with the European Space Agency and also the requirement for government administrations in Europe to publish data as open data, tied with the awareness of Linked Data, will be an important element for helping philosophy students become interesting professionals for this kind of activity.”

And Epistematica itself is helping to prepare philosophy students for the career doors that will be opening. Next month Romano will be teaching the course of Knowledge Representation and Reasoning for philosophy students at the University of Rome Sapienza. It’s the sixth time Epistematica has offered the program to, as it says, “prepare professionals who will respond to the need of having ‘a philosopher in every organization.’” (The announcement of the most recent course is here.)

The need will expand as businesses become even more familiar with the opportunities semantic technology can offer, too. “Often [executives] already think that something tied to Linked Data can be interesting for their business, or something that is worth consideration,” says Romano. “So we don’t have to explain from scratch anymore what is an ontology, but simply we can point to linking data together based on RDF to build something more interesting.”

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