Reading material: “Interactive ontology revision”

This is the second in a series of blog posts on “interesting explanation/debugging papers I have found in the past few months and that I think are worth sharing”. I’m quite good with catchy titles!

Nikitina, N., Rudolph, S., Glimm, B.: Interactive ontology revision. J. Web Sem. 12: 118-130 (2012) [PDF]

This paper follows a semi-automated approach to ontology repair/revision, with a focus on factually incorrect statements rather than logical errors. In the ontology revision process, a domain experts inspects the set of ontology axioms, then decides whether the axiom is correct (should be accepted) or incorrect (axiom is rejected). Each decision thereby has consequences for other axioms, as they can be either automatically accepted (if they follow logically from the accepted axioms) or rejected (if they violate the accepted axioms). Rather than showing the axioms in random order, the proposed system determines the impact a decision has on the remainder of the axioms (using some ranking function), and gives higher priority to high impact items in order to minimize the number of decisions a user has to make in the revision process. This process is quite similar to Baris Sertkaya’s FCA-based ontology completion approach, which employs the same “accept/decline” strategy.

The authors also introduce “decision spaces”, a data structure which stores the results of reasoning over a set of axioms if an axiom is accepted or declined; using this auxiliary structure saves frequent invocation of a reasoner (83% of reasoner calls were avoided in the revision tool evaluation). Interestingly, this concept on its own would make for a good addition to OWL tools for users who have stated that they would like a kind of preview to “see what happens if they add, remove or modify an axiom” while avoiding expensive reasoning.


Conceptually, this approach is elegant, straightforward, and easily understandable for a user: See an axiom, make a yes/no decision, repeat, eventually obtain a “correct” ontology. In particular, I think it the key strengths are that 1) a human user makes decisions whether something is correct or not, 2) these decisions are as easy as possible (a simple yes/no), and 3) the tool (shown in the screenshot above) reduces workload (both in terms of “click count” as well as cognitive effort, see 2)) for the user. In order to debug unwanted entailments, e.g. unsatisfiable classes, the set of unwanted consequences can be initialised with those “errors”. The accept/decline decisions are then made in order to remove those axioms which lead to the unwanted entailments.

On the other hand, there are a few problems I see with using this method for debugging: First, the user has no control over which axioms to remove or modify in order to repair the unwanted entailments; in some way this is quite similar to automated repair strategies. Second, I don’t think there can be any way of the user actually understanding why an entailment holds as they don’t get to see the “full picture”, but only one axiom after another. And third, using the revision technique throughout the development process, starting with a small ontology, may be doable, but debugging large numbers of errors (for example after conversion from some other format into OWL or integrating some other ontology) seems quite tedious.