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Meet the Founders

Part 2: Professor Boris Motik

Part 2: Professor Boris Motik

In the first article of the series Professor Ian Horrocks was in the hot seat. In this article, Professor Boris Motik is under the spotlight. Boris’ love for RDFox and passion for software engineering is integral to Oxford Semantic Technologies and the development of RDFox.

The journey to Oxford Semantic Technologies

Originally from Croatia, Boris undertook an undergraduate and a master’s degree at the University of Zagreb. Inspired by authors such as David Poole, Boris entered the space of semantic technologies fascinated with automated detection.

“I was fascinated by two things: that it looked so difficult mathematically; and the idea that you could structure knowledge symbolically”

During his academic years in Croatia, Boris was already contemplating ways to improve the systems he was using, for example AltaVista:

“I remember being frustrated by AltaVista, which was the search engine at the time. You couldn’t find anything, it was just horrible! I thought that if people came up with a taxonomy of things and then attached this to their documents, I could just use the search engine with the taxonomy”

Boris, moved to Germany for his PhD where he developed algorithms for reasoning in OWL by reusing database technologies. Following this his academic life brought him to the University of Manchester as a post-doc after a phone call with Andrei Voronkov, (whom Boris called the “God of Automated Reasoning”). It was at the University of Manchester that Boris met Ian and Bernardo, after which they all moved down to the University of Oxford where they created RDFox. Boris’ passion for software engineering, correctness and thorough conceptual design are integral to RDFox.

As one of the founders of Oxford Semantic Technologies and a leading academic in semantic technologies, we’ve asked Boris his thoughts on RDFox and the semantics space.

You often talk about your love for RDFox, but what do you love most?

“The system is really well structured which essentially means that you really know what’s happening. In software it is so easy to lose oversight of what is happening. I can really predict what’s happening in RDFox and that’s really important because this actually is guaranteed quality.”

Are there any problems or use cases that you find particularly interesting?

“I’m not a businessman, but a problem solver who is interested in the technology, so I look at RDFox from a chief conceptual architect perspective. I care about the problems which are challenges to solve. What I find interesting is to build a system that can support complex use cases. When it is challenging you have to really apply yourself, think it through and have every single detail in a place. Challenging problems are interesting, as they make me a better programmer - they bring to my attention aspects of RDFox which we could improve. I like solving these problems.”

As a leading academic in the semantic space and founder of a semantic technology company, what do you think are the biggest challengers for semantic reasoning which are yet to be solved?

“From a purely technical perspective, I think distribution is a key challenge that still needs to be solved. Distribution is what is needed when you have so much data that you can’t fit it on one machine. From an academic, conceptual, systems point of view, we need to explore the options for doing this and understand what the tradeoffs will be. There is quite a bit to be understood so this represents a challenge.

Another challenge which is less hardcore technical, is that we have this plethora of different standards, such as SPARQL, RDF, property graphs and so on. I think it would be quite good for the industry, to clean this up and settle on standards. For a vendor like us, implementing all of that is quite difficult and moreover different standards don’t necessarily all interplay with each other very well. Whereas, if you look at the relational databases for example, the situation is much clearer. There is SQL, it’s a standard and people know what they’re doing if they’re developing a database. So I think a challenge is the consolidation of the technology.”

Do you have any tips for a new RDFox user?

“I think that across computer science and IT, people need to focus on conceptual modelling. If you have a complex problem, you need to break it down into nicely structured parts. For example ontology modelling is a way of looking at your problem at a slightly higher level. If people did this then it would help them to use RDFox.”

Thank you Boris for sharing your passion for the technology and your academic journey. The next article in the series will place Professor Bernardo Cuenca Grau under the spotlight and reveal his journey to become a Founder at Oxford Semantic Technologies and his insights into the semantic world.

To read Professor Boris Motik’s publications here are some links:

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The Team and Resources

The team behind Oxford Semantic Technologies started working on RDFox in 2011 at the Computer Science Department of the University of Oxford with the conviction that flexible and high-performance reasoning was a possibility for data-intensive applications without jeopardising the correctness of the results. RDFox is the first market-ready knowledge graph designed from the ground up with reasoning in mind. Oxford Semantic Technologies is a spin-out of the University of Oxford and is backed by leading investors including Samsung Venture Investment Corporation (SVIC), Oxford Sciences Innovation (OSI) and Oxford University’s investment arm (OUI). The author is proud to be a member of this team.