Semantic Email: Theory and Applications

Luke McDowell, Oren Etzioni, Alon Halevy


This paper investigates how the vision of the Semantic Web can be carried over to the realm of email. We introduce a general notion of semantic email, in which an email message consists of a structured query or update coupled with corresponding explanatory text. Semantic email opens the door to a wide range of automated, email-mediated applications with formally guaranteed properties. In particular, this paper introduces a broad class of semantic email proce sses. For example, consider the process of sending an email to a program committee, asking who will attend the PC dinner, automatically collecting the responses, and tallying them up. We define both logical and decision-theoretic models where an email process is modeled as a set of updates to a data set on which we specify goals via certain constraints or utilities. We then describe a set of inference problems that arise while trying to satisfy these goals and analyze their computational tractability. In particular, we show that for the logical model it is possible to automatically infer which email responses are acceptable w.r.t. a set of constraints in polynomial time, and for the decision-theoretic model it is possible to compute the optimal message-handling policy in polynomial time. In addition, we show how to automatically generate explanations for a process's actions, and identify cases where such explanations can be generated in polynomial time. Finally, we discuss our publicly available implementation of semantic email and outline research challenges in this realm.

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Type of Paper: Research Paper
Keywords: Semantic Web; satisfiability; decision-theoretic; reasoning with aggregation
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