Media Advisory: Open-source ontology software conference begins July 23 ar Stanford

STANFORD, Calif. - Stanford Medical Informatics is hosting an international conference July 23-26 on the Protégé system, an open-source software platform that is increasingly being used to organize knowledge online and to develop complex computer systems that address problems ranging from cancer research to troubleshooting automotive assembly lines.

The software, which was developed at Stanford, is used to model ontologies - ways of classifying the meanings and hierarchical relationships among terms and concepts in a given subject. While ontologies predate the information age and can be traced to the ancient Greek philosophers, they have taken on greater significance in recent years in computer science with the growing need to make sense of oceans of data.

"It's like a catalog of all the entities that are known about some discipline, which are represented in a way that both people and computers can reason about them," said Mark Musen, MD, PhD, professor of medicine (medical informatics), who created the original version of Protégé in the late 1980s.

This will be the ninth international Protégé conference, and more than 100 computer scientists from universities and private industry groups from at least 20 nations have already registered. Tutorials and workshops will be held on the first day at the James H. Clark Center; talks and posters will be presented the following three days at the Fairchild Auditorium.

"The scope of this conference is large," said Daniel Rubin, MD, assistant professor of medicine (radiology) and research scientist at Stanford Medical Informatics. "It's for people who are interested in how computers represent knowledge across any domain, or people who work with complex problems and need to represent these concepts."

In general, ontologies can be used to model concepts in fields as diverse as theology, information science and artificial intelligence. For example, by allowing researchers to draw together data from scores of different randomized medical trials, Protégé helps them better understand diseases. But it is also being used in systems that troubleshoot problems on manufacturing assembly lines. Protégé users range from the World Health Organization to DaimlerChrysler.

Interest in Protégé has grown since 2001 when it became open source, allowing any user to download the software for free. Protégé has about 50,000 registered users, including 7,000 "die-hards" who subscribe to an extremely active e-mail discussion group, Musen said.

"It is much easier and faster to get projects started when open-source tools are available," says Michael Uschold, a senior researcher at Boeing, who will deliver the conference's keynote address on July 23. "Protégé is a tremendous boon to academic research."

For more information and to register for the conference, please visit http://protege.stanford.edu/conference/2006. Registration is free for full-time Stanford students, $400 per attendee for Stanford faculty, staff and non-Stanford full-time students, and $700 per attendee for all others. The registration deadline is July 14.


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