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AI technologies upending traditional KM

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A sound knowledge management system is much more than an electronic filing system. Good KM depends on human curation, and it is also dependent on human interaction, experience, and collaboration. Knowledge comes from a deep understanding of the working environment (world) and profound and extensive working experiences. From its earliest days, KM has been founded on implicit and tacit knowledge concepts. That knowledge is created through social interaction, not just by individuals, but through group interaction and collaboration. In short, knowledge is a distinctly human concept. By contrast, even the most intelligent AI systems are not human; they are machines.

Aristotle believed that knowledge is acquired gradually through our experiences of the world. He also believed in the importance of reasoning and logic in developing knowledge. Kant went a bit further and emphasized the role of the mind in shaping and understanding the world. The father of KM, Ikujiro Nonaka, similarly believed that knowledge is a product of individual learning and the result of social interactions and collaboration within organizations. But what relevance do these positions have in 2023 for knowledge managers? “Knowledge” has unfortunately become a synonym for “information,” and knowledge management systems are rapidly becoming little more than information management systems. If we are not careful and proactive about it, the concept and importance of knowledge itself may soon become blurred or lost.

Advances and innovations

As an industry analyst, I live and breathe advances and innovations in the world of technology, particularly AI as it applies to information management. Last year alone saw significant advances in generative, multi-modal AI. Now, if you still need to play around with ChatGPT, OpenAI, or GPT-4, I suggest you do, as this branch of technology has the potential to upend the traditional world of KM. Technology vendors, large and small alike, are already hard at work incorporating this type of technology into their KM products, so it’s not a matter of if they will, it’s a matter of when they will hit the market and start being used in earnest.

To be clear, these technologies are awe-inspiring and provide very plausible answers to almost any question. Employees and customers alike would love a more conversational engagement with KM systems to promptly find the necessary explanations and guidance. But the responses from generative AI systems come devoid of real-world human experience. Put simply, they don’t think as a human mind does or socially interact as humans do. AI has a role to play in the world of KM, but I fear that it will convincingly overstep its boundaries, and we will lose much in the process.

Not everything can be automated

There is an interesting parallel here in the world of business process automation. After years of dreaming of hyperautomation and a belief that pretty much everything can be automated, a renaissance is underway in thinking and approach. This can be summarized by understanding that people—our employees, customers, and partners—often know how to do things better than the IT systems ever will. This is a recognition that technology is there not to replace but to augment and help people do their work and interact productively and efficiently with one another.

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