Intrinsic Limits and Possible Results for Research in Multimedia Semantics

By Rabitti, Fausto; Meghini, Carlo | Journal of Digital Information Management, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Intrinsic Limits and Possible Results for Research in Multimedia Semantics


Rabitti, Fausto, Meghini, Carlo, Journal of Digital Information Management


In the study of the language, the semantics is the discipline that takes care of the meaning of the expressions of the language. Next to it, the syntax studies the rules for the formation of the correct expressions, and the pragmatics studies the use of the expressions of the language for the communication. For a long time, it was thought that the meaning of linguistic expressions was given by abstract entities, such as ideas or concepts. It was an ingenuous theory of meaning, widely rooted in the common sense, that could be formulated in the following way:

   We have in our mind ideas and concepts. To be able
   to express them, we need something audible or
   visible. For this purpose, we invent a language
   composed of words, that are vehicles to convey the
   meaning, that is, the ideas and the concepts that we
   want to communicate. We can associate to each
   word or complex of words an idea, a concept, a thought
   Ideas, concepts and thoughts are stable, the same
   for all people, wherever they come from. People
   express them with various oral/written expressions
   depending on the "tribe" they belong to.

These convictions have been changed in the course of the last century, thanks to the contribution of philosophers of various extraction. Today it is universally thought, that the meaning of a statement is the set of worlds (or situations, or states) that make true the statement itself [1]. As an example the meaning of the statement "it rains" is the set of worlds where it effectively rains.

A further step ahead in the theory of the meaning has been made by introducing holism, saying that meaning cannot be distributed to parts of the theory, but can only be obtained by considering the whole language, that is the whole set (rather, network) of occurrences of certain expressions. This means that the theoretical content is distributed and interleaved in such a way that it is not possible to divide statement by statement. This approach has been strengthen by Davidson [2], giving further foundation to it. Davidson argues that holism has in fact two aspects: semantic holism (that is, the holism of meaning) and epistemologic holism (that is, he holism of knowledge). These two types of holism are two faces of the same medal.

Going from theory to practice, that is, the research in multimedia semantics, we can say that the meaning of a multimedia object, for example, a text, is the set of the worlds where what text says is true. In a similar manner, we can say that the meaning of an image or a video is the set of worlds where the image or the video occurs and is relevant. The meaning of complex document (possibly, composed by mixed media objects) can be composed in a non trivial way on the basis of the meaning of the composing objects. However, when we want to represent the meaning of multimedia (complex) objects, that is, when we want to define linguistic expressions that denote the worlds that are the meaning of an object, we have to deal with several hard problems:

1. Holism implies that the representations are anyway partial, tied to a context, a scope and a community of people. For this reason, the pure ontological approach, for which it is possible to detail all the characteristics a certain sector of the world, is quite hopeless. This approach seems to forget than the failure of Artificial Intelligence, some twenty year ago, is just here, in the impossibility to construct knowledge representations capturing all the aspects of a sufficiently complex domain. …

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