Section: Scientific Foundations

Ontological Query Answering

Querying knowledge bases is a central problem in knowledge representation and in database theory. A knowledge base (KB) is classically composed of a terminological part (metadata, ontology) and an assertional part (facts, data). Queries are supposed to be at least as expressive as the basic queries in databases, i.e., conjunctive queries, which can be seen as existentially closed conjunctions of atoms or as labelled graphs. The challenge is to define good trade-offs between the expressivity of the ontological language and the complexity of querying data in presence of ontological knowledge. Classical ontogical languages, typically description logics, were not designed for efficient querying. On the other hand, database languages were able to process complex queries on huge databases, but without taking the ontology into account. There is thus a need for new languages and mechanisms, able to cope with the ever growing size of knowledge bases in the Semantic Web or in scientific domains.

This problem is related to two other problems identified as fundamental in KRR:

  • Query-answering with incomplete information. Incomplete information means that it might be unknown whether a given assertion is true or false. Databases classically make the so-called closed-world assumption: every fact that cannot be retrieved or inferred from the base is assumed to be false. Knowledge bases classically make the open-world assumption: if something cannot be inferred from the base, and neither can its negation, then its truth status is unknown. The need of coping with incomplete information is a distinctive feature of querying knowledge bases with respect to querying classical databases (however, as explained above, this distinction tends to disappear). The presence of incomplete information makes the query answering task much more difficult.

  • Reasoning with rules. Researching types of rules and adequate manners to process them is a mainstream topic in the Semantic Web, and, more generally a crucial issue for knowledge-based systems. For several years, we have been studying some rules, both in their logical and their graph form, which are syntactically very simple but also very expressive. These rules can be seen as an abstraction of ontological knowledge expressed in the main languages used in the context of KB querying. See Sect.  6.1 for details on the results obtained.

A problem generalising the above described problems, and particularly relevant in the context of multiple data/metadata sources, is querying hybrid knowledge bases. In a hybrid knowledge base, each component may have its own formalism and its own reasoning mechanisms. There may be a common ontology shared by all components, or each component may have its own ontology, with mappings being defined among the ontologies. The question is what kind of interactions between these components and/or what limitations on the languages preserve the decidability of basic problems and if so, a “reasonable”complexity. Note that there are strong connections with data integration in databases.