|A Semantic Sommelier: Wine Application Highlights the Power of Web 3.0
In the restaurant of the future, you will always enjoy the perfect meal with that full-bodied 2006 cabernet sauvignon, you will always know your dinner companions’ favorite merlot, and you will be able to check if the sommelier’s cellar contains your favorite pinot grigio before you even check your coat. These feats of classic cuisine will come to the modern dinner through the power of Semantic Web technology.
The semantic sommelier is set to provide even the most novice of foodies some exciting new tools to expand their wine knowledge and food-pairing abilities on everything from their home PC to their smart phone.
Web scientist and Tetherless World Research Constellation Senior Professor Deborah McGuinness has been developing a family of applications for the most tech-savvy wine connoisseurs since her days as a graduate student in the 1980s before what we now know as the World Wide Web had even been envisioned.
Today, McGuinness is among the world’s foremost experts in Web ontology languages. These languages are used to encode meanings in a language that computers can understand. The most recent version of her wine application serves as an exceptional example of what the future of the World Wide Web, often called Web 3.0, might in fact look like. It is also an exceptional tool for teaching future Web scientists about ontologies.
“The wine agent came about because I had to demonstrate the new technology that I was developing,” McGuinness said. “I had sophisticated applications that used cutting-edge artificial intelligence technology in domains, such as telecommunications equipment, that were difficult for anyone other than well-trained engineers to understand.” McGuinness took the technology into the domain of wines and foods to create a program that she uses as a semantic tutorial, an “Ontologies 101” as she calls it. And students throughout the years have done many things with the wine agent including, most recently, experimentation with social media and mobile phone applications.
Today, the semantic sommelier is set to provide even the most novice of foodies some exciting new tools to expand their wine knowledge and food-pairing abilities on everything from their home PC to their smart phone. Evan Patton, a graduate student in computer science at Rensselaer, is the most recent student to tinker with the wine agent and is working with McGuinness to bring it into the mobile space on both the iPhone and Droid platforms.
The agent uses the Web Ontology Language (OWL), the formal language for the Semantic Web. Like the English language, which uses an agreed-upon alphabet to form words and sentences that all English-speaking people can recognize, OWL uses a formalized set of symbols to create a code or language that a wide variety of applications can “read.” This allows your computer to operate more efficiently and more intelligently with your cell phone or your Facebook page, or any other Web page or Web-enabled device. These semantics also allow for an entirely new generation in smart search technologies.
Thanks to its semantic technology, the sommelier is input with basic background knowledge about wine and food. For wine, that includes its body, color (red versus white or blush), sweetness, and flavor. For food, this includes the course (e.g., appetizer versus entrée), ingredient type (e.g., fish versus meat), and its heat (mild versus spicy). The semantic technologies beneath the application then encode that knowledge and apply reasoning to search and share that information. This semantic functionality can now be exploited for a variety of culinary purposes, all of which McGuinness, a lover of fine wines, and Patton are working on together.