London's DataStore Workshop

Today I attended a workshop organised by the Greater London Authority (GLA), which is the citywide government for London. The workshop was held at City Hall on the top floor where we had a splendid view over the Thames, of Tower Bridge, and the Tower of London.
The GLA is in the process of scoping a datastore for information London. The objective is to begin to encourage development of “government 2.0” using open government data along the lines of what has been done in San Franscisco in the US (see an article on DataSF and a post by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom). The principle idea is that by putting data of public interest into the public domain, the government can provide the basis for development of applications and services for the government, business community, and public. For example, using police data, one can generate crime maps.
At the GLA meeting, the objective was to meet with the developer community to get ideas and feedback on what and how the data should be released as well as how best to encourage applications in the near future.
Clearly, the GLA meeting is along the lines of what is happening elsewhere in the UK government (see Digital Engagement at the Cabinet Office, the Office of Public Sector Information, and The Stationery Office).
There were some 70 participants at the meeting, and we can look forward to further information coming from the organisers at the GLA. Some very useful suggestions where made about where to get further information such as the Technology Strategy Board which supports technology development in the UK.
Among the topics of discussion where:

  • What sort of data should be released and in what form? There were those who wanted it raw and those who wanted it structured. Likely releasing it both forms will occur.
  • How to get licensing for the data? There are a host of difficult issues here, as most of the data is owned or copyrighted by a range of organisations, each of whom wants to control the flow of information, profit from it, or has concerns about security/liability. Moreover, the government contracts information service providers, which process the data, may have some legal claim. Such providers may be required to make their data open.
  • How would the data be used? There were many suggestions about data reuse and mash up, mostly along the lines of existing applications such as mapping data to physical maps in order to get ideas about what is happening where in neighborhoods, transportation assistance, information access in a local area, and so on.
  • Who would develop the applications and how would development be funded? Clearly there is an issue about funding, but some of the ways around it are to leverage funding between academic, government, and business communities.
  • Who to consult about applications? A range of parties might be consulted about what they would find useful, from the person on the street, to members of service organisations (police, licensing, etc), to higher level government organisations. Alternative, the GLA or similar organisations might develop applications which they thought would be useful, then provide them to the public. Here, the focus would be on small, manageable, pilot projects to show proof of concept.

The discussion was very nicely organised and led — several large tables around a circle, several large monitors, several boards for writing, an MC who kept things moving along, and a good overall atmosphere. However, missing were a list of participants, contact information, and a short (three sentence) statement of interest; hopefully, all this will appear soon.
This is all very interesting and exciting, for things are just beginning to happen. However, I have some concerns and realise I have a somewhat different focus.

  • There were too few participants from government services and academia. This is also reflected in the gap between the technology and the data, since it is highly unclear who is developing what for whom and what purpose? It is hard to get a handle on how data should be served without some sense of goals. Nonetheless, likely there will be another meet-up at which this more substantive discussion will happen.
  • There was only passing mention of ontologies, annotation, information extraction, and the semantic web. The absence of semantic web concepts suggests that “reasoning” and complex information management is not high on the agenda. This is consistent with the family of application ideas (graphs, maps, local information). While I was told that there were ontologies via OPSI, this is not what I understood from John Sheridan in my recent discussion, so I will be eager to see exactly what this is.
  • Similarly, there was some discussion about whether there should be or could be standards and schemas for the data. These are always compatible (make them both available), but I see standards are essential for any communication across agencies and localities. There are drawbacks to standards development, but the issue will arise sooner or later in any case.
  • There is, as yet, no the pitch. In other words, what is the incentive for anyone to make their data available or for organisations to otherwise cooperate with this endeavour? The only mentions of incentive were government obligation, but this is perhaps the most heavy handed way to make headway. Rather, there should be positive incentives. In addition, the eGovernment agenda should be pushed (e.g. transparency, support for government, participation, efficiency, cost reduction, consistency….).
  • There was little discussion of exactly which technologies would be used though RDF/XML and REST were mentioned. These are generic and widespread; is the real hangup right now data access, or is there some technological issue? If I wanted to know what I should need to know to program and provide a simple service, what would I have to know and do?
  • Despite the widespread interest in government 2.0, there is little vertical/horizontal integration or communication among the interested parties. There is not, apparently, a coherent website or ‘state of the art’ article with links to the relevant data/functionalities/support organisations.
  • There was no over-arching conception of design or context for applications. Likely some sort of ‘apps’ or plugins framework will emerge so that, for example, a local council would build none of its own applications or services, but these would be provided as plugins by independent providers, yet given a consistent style and structure.
  • Though there are claims that there have been consultations about government 2.0 with the various interested parties, there is no clear presentation of the results of those consultations. A ‘brain-storming’ site would be very useful.
  • It is unclear to me the extent to which the participants have the political/social context in mind. While we were hosted by the GLA and discussed GLA data, the opportunities, limitations, requirements, and objectives of government seem to have entirely overlooked. For example, government is successful (not always, but often) with making and monitoring standards for the public good; as elsewhere, why not here? The requirements of government information provision are different than for commercial provision, especially since the government provides goods and services that would not otherwise be profitable. The government does consult with the public and interested parties in making policy, but in some cases it is crucial that government lead and direct developments; the government is not simply another commerical provider of goods and services, driven by consumer interests; the government has a legislative role. Keeping this in mind may change the sorts of proposals that come out from open GLA data
  • There were several discussions about why and how government data should be published. The main points ought to be developed, discussed further, and summarised. Yet, it ought also be pointed out that there is, in the UK, an abundance of information that the government holds about individuals; it is unclear how a ‘firewall’ to protect and promote civil liberties will be set up and maintained; privacy and rights are in fact rather weak in the UK. For example, the NHS is state funded and one might argue certain matters are in the public interest, so open information issues may arise here: will we have ‘disease’ mashups such as there are for broken lamp-posts, but in this case for drug addicts, HIV carriers, swine flu, etc?
  • I am particularly interested in legal reasoning, but this is not something on the agenda with respect to this data.

In any case, there is much of interest here and much to look forward to.
Adam Wyner
Copyright © 2009 Adam Wyner

New publication in AAAI Symposium

I and my colleagues have a paper forthcoming in the proceedings of the AAAI Fall Symposium (November 2009) The Uses of Computational Argumentation. Trevor will have the honours of making the presentation at the symposium. Below please find a link to the paper and an abstract.
Adam Wyner
Instantiating Knowledge Bases in Abstract Argumentation Frameworks
Adam Wyner
University College London
Trevor Bench-Capon and Paul Dunne
University of Liverpool
Abstract Argumentation Frameworks (AFs) provide a fruitful basis for exploring issues of defeasible reasoning. Their power largely derives from the abstract nature of the arguments within the framework, where arguments are atomic nodes in an undifferentiated relation of attack. This abstraction conceals different conceptions of argument, and concrete instantiations encounter difficulties as a result of conflating these conceptions. We distinguish three distinct senses of the term. We provide an approach to instantiating AFs in which the nodes are restricted to literals and rules, encoding the underlying theory directly. Arguments, in each of the three senses, then emerge from this framework as distinctive structures of nodes and paths. Our framework retains the theoretical and computational benefits of an abstract AF, while keeping notions distinct which are conflated in other approaches to instantiation.

Text Mining Legal Resources with GATE — Study 1

This page reports the results of a first study of applying GATE to a legal resource. The focus of this study was to annotate a list of cases.
I used a web page from BAILII which contains a list of cases with the following information:

  • The first party in a case, e.g. Meade.
  • The second party in a case, e.g. Mason.
  • The citation date, e.g. [1999]
  • The court level in which the case was decided, e.g. England and Wales Court of Appeals.
  • The court within the level, e.g. Civil.
  • The citation number, e.g. 780.
  • The date of the decision, e.g. 12 February 1999.

A sample of entries from the page I worked with is:
McSpadden v Keen [1999] EWCA Civ 1515 (27 May 1999)
McTaggart, R v [1997] EWCA Crim 3050 (24th November, 1997)
McTaggart, R v [1997] EWCA Crim 3137 (2nd December, 1997)
McVeigh & Anor, R v [1998] EWCA Crim 784 (3rd March, 1998)
McWhirter & Anor, R (on the application of) v Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs [2003] EWCA Civ 384 (05 March 2003)
M-D v D [2008] EWHC 1929 (Fam) (19 December 2008)
MD (Guinea) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2009] EWCA Civ 733 (17 June 2009)
MD (Iran) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2007] EWCA Civ 532 (27 April 2007)
Below, we have a screenshot of the result of annotation in GATE. The parts of the annotation are colour coded as appear in the column on the right. In Firefox, one can right click on the image, then View Image in order to view a larger version, then click the back button on the browser to return to the post.
GATE annotations on a list of legal case information
There were range of irregularities in the source which had to be accommodated:

  • v and v. for the versus relation.
  • Decision date formats.
  • Length of the names of the parties.
  • Different orders of court and court level
  • Variations that arise as a consequence of using a page stripped of HTML annotations. The first name in the image is an artifact.

In this approach, I did not annotate the parties as plaintiff and defendant as the case decisions themselves associate the parties with different roles in different court contexts; our approach is more general. In consideration of the variants among case citations, I opted to identify each piece of the citation, which will allow one to extract and reconstruct the citation in a subsequent work.
While a small scale and relatively simple task, the result has one main strength — it gives us a list of parties to cases. It is difficult to automatically identify parties in general, but with this approach, we can extract those entities which have been involved in a case, then use that information for subsequent annotation tasks. Another strength is that we have isolated the components of the case citation, which can then be reconstructed as we wish.
The list of parties could be further refined by isolating last names, distinguishing among parties which appear in a list, differentiating persons from organisations, and filtering out additional information that appears. This is left for future work.
The Case Base List zip file contains the following files, which were used with GATE.

  • ew-cases-0133.html, which is the HTML file that lists the cases.
  • ew-cases-0133SHORT.xml, which is the XML file with the result of annotation. This is file related to the graphic above. The file is a short version of ew-cases-0133.html so that one can more easily see the results of the annotation. These appear as stand-off annotations. In the first part of the file, one can see the tokens of the file with numerical ranges (node numbers); later in the file, one can see indications of the annotations, making reference to the starting and ending numbers of each token.
  • GraphicListAnnotation.png, the graphic above.
  • CiteYear.jape, this annotates out the citation year for use in the citation as in [1998]
  • Courts_abbr.jape, this annotates the court level in terms of abbreviations as in EWCA, which is the English and Wales Court of Appeals.
  • dateAWynerMods.jape, this annotates the decision date such as (23rd June, 2001) and (21 July 2000).
  • FirstParty.jape, this annotates the first party, which is that party to the left of versus.
  • SecondParty.jape, this annotates the second party, which is that party to the right of versus.
  • SubCourts_abbr.jape, this annotates the courts within a court level such as civil courts (Civ) and criminal courts (Crim).
  • Versus.jape, this annotates the versus divider.
  • england_wales_courts_hierarchy.lst, this is a list of courts in England and Wales.
  • england_wales_courts_hierarchy_abbr.lst, this is a list of abbreviations for the courts in England and Wales.
  • england_wales_courts_subclass.lst, this is a list of the divisions within a court level.
  • england_wales_courts_subclass_abbr.lst, this is a list of abbreviations of courts within a court level.
  • cite_year.lst, this is a list of years with square brackets as in [1999]. Perhaps a rule can be written for this, taking into account the brackets.
  • list.def, the ‘master list’ of lists for use in GATE.

The files are released under a Creative Commons Attribute and ShareAlike license. The main objective of the contribution is to foster open, public, and collaborative development of text mining tools for legal resources.
Advice, suggestions, alternatives, and contributions along the lines of this work are very welcome.
Copyright © 2009 Adam Wyner