Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Symposium: Roles, an interdisciplinary perspective

Related to my interest in network personal identity, there is an interesting symposium coming up at the 2005 AAAI Fall Symposium Series entitled "Roles, an interdisciplinary perspective":

The notion of role is ubiquitous not only in many areas of artificial intelligence, but also in many other areas of computer science, like programming languages, software engineering, coordination and databases, multiagent systems, computational linguistics and conceptual modelling, and also in other scientific fields, like formal ontology, sociology, cognitive science, organizational science and linguistics.

In sociology, on the one hand roles are often described as expected behavior of entities or agents, on the other hand roles are seen also as presentations of selves. In organizational science roles encompass more formal aspects such as rights and duties. Three different main viewpoints characterize research on roles:

  • roles as named places in relationships (especially in linguistics, databases and conceptual modelling)
  • roles as dynamic classification of entities (especially in programming languages and databases)
  • roles as instances to be adjoined to the entities which play the role (especially in ontologies, multiagent systems and programming languages).

Undisputed distinguishing features of roles seem to be their dependence on some other entities and their dynamic character (Sowa 1984). These properties contrast roles with the notion of natural types. Natural type seems to be essential to an entity: if an entity changes its natural type, it loses its identity; in Guarino (1992)'s terms, roles lack the rigidity which natural types possess. Masolo et al. (2004) elaborate the relational nature of roles, highlighting their definitional dependence on other concepts.

Undisputed distinguishing features of roles seem to be their dependence on some other entities and their dynamic character (Sowa 1984). These properties contrast roles with the notion of natural types. Natural type seems to be essential to an entity: if an entity changes its natural type, it loses its identity; in Guarino (1992)'s terms, roles lack the rigidity which natural types possess. Masolo et al. (2004) elaborate the relational nature of roles, highlighting their definitional dependence on other concepts.

Discussions on roles are important not only to have a better understanding of theories using this notion, but also from the applicative point of view. E.g., integration of ontologies, programming languages, databases, simulation can benefit from the introduction of a well founded notion of role. 

The concept of roles is absolutely essential to the discussion of identity.  This symposium demonstrates the extent to which we still lack an adequate conceptual and theoretical foundation upon which to build a rock-solid computational infrastructure for identity mechanisms.
 

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