There is no — repeat, no — question that the Web as we know it is evolving to something radically different. That something is the Semantic Web, or Web 3.0. While this shift was predicted a decade ago, and has been called “imminent” for several years, the predictions are finally coming true. And the change will be far more disruptive than even many insiders realize.
The impact of the Semantic Web on every aspect of society — business, medicine, government, defense, education, communication, media, you name it — will be even more dramatic than the original Web was. The changeover process will threaten or destroy some of today’s seemingly all-powerful technology titans (Microsoft, Oracle, even Google) if they adapt slowly or unsuccessfully. And it will create new leaders and inventions that are barely on the radar now. There’s a name for this business cycle of life: creative destruction.
Creative destruction is what happens when innovative companies or breakthrough technologies revolutionize and dominate industries — and then have exactly the same thing done to them. A classic example: Think of what happened when cassette tapes replaced 8-track recorders, then CDs replaced cassettes and then MP3 players replaced cassettes. Another great illustration: personal computers. The hardware industry, led by Microsoft and Intel, destroyed many mainframe computer companies; but in the process, entrepreneurs created one of the most important inventions of this century.
Where does the Semantic Web fit into the creative destruction cycle? In fact, what is the Semantic Web? If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard a good bit of talk about semantic computing, semantic SEO, semantic markup, semantic search and semantic databases, without knowing exactly what it’s about. The word “semantic” implies meaning and understanding. Put very simply, the Semantic Web focuses on finding the meaning in data, not just finding data.
The Semantic Web is about connecting data, all data, everywhere and putting it in massive graph databases that can be read and conceptually understood by computers. Currently, most Web pages are designed to be read by people, not machines. But because linked, graph-based data is machine-readable, computers will be able to answer increasingly sophisticated questions for us — to interpret data, understand context, infer meaning and do reasoning. Put another way: Semantic databases, which sprang out of Artificial Intelligence, allow computers to “think,” to understand big, conceptual queries, then find and combine exactly the information we humans need to make ever-smarter decisions. Yes, just like the Star Trek computer did.
The major players in the social/mobile world of Web 2.0 are already deeply involved in Web 3.0, the Semantic Web. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, IBM and many other giants (including the Department of Defense) are running massive semantic graph applications right this minute.
However, it will take time for the Semantic Web to penetrate every corner of technology while costs and performance come down to earth. But here’s a quick glimpse of what Web 3.0 will look like and some of the creative destruction that’s likely to go on.
- The #1 problem of Big Data will be solved; that is, the closed silos of relational databases that have dominated the last 50 years will no longer exist. Instead, data will be open, linked, free-flowing and accessible to anyone and everyone.
- Semantic computers that understand speech and think fast, as IBM’s famous Watson computer did when it won “Jeopardy,” will be a given, not an exorbitant TV stunt.
- Unlike today’s computers (including Watson), which still need to know what you want to know, the future’s semantic-trained super-computers will anticipate and find the answers to questions you haven’t even thought to ask yet.
If Oracle, HP, Dell, IBM, Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Facebook, et al. don’t successfully adapt to the revolutionary Semantic Web, it will destroy them and create new leaders, new innovations, and new opportunities. What will replace them?
Here’s my prediction: Instead of a few massive companies to which everyone turns, there will be massive specialization in the data-driven world. Enterprises in retail, financial services, healthcare, travel, transportation, utilities and countless other industries will be able to leverage a huge amount of internal and external data to optimize customer relationships, leading to hundreds or thousands of expert, ultra-specific “answer engines.” For example, there won’t be just health search engines but search engines for diabetes, breast cancer, statin drugs, etc. There won’t be just mineral search engines but search engines for gold, platinum, copper, titanium and more. There won’t be just golf search engines but search engines for golf equipment or golf vacations in Scotland.
The new business possibilities will be endless, and endlessly exciting, as Web 3.0 — the Semantic Web — takes over. That’s because the “creative” part of creative destruction is a powerful economic force for making societies wealthier.
Charles Silver is CEO of Algebraix Data Corp., the Semantic Web Company™.