Thursday 31 May 2018

Will AI replace KM?

My answer is No, for the following reasons.

image from wikipedia
I have been working in Knowledge Management for a long time now, and the history of KM includes examples of one technology after another claiming that it will replace KM or make it obsolete.

Yet KM is still here.
  • In the 1990s, it was Expert Systems that would make KM obsolete
  • Then in the late 90s, it was Groupware that would replace KM
  • Then Enterprise Search would be the saviour of KM
  • In the mid 200s, Social networking became the new trend that would supercede KM ("Social is the new KM")
  • And of course SharePoint - "all you need for KM"
  • Then came Enterprise 2.0, and Enterprise Social. They would become the new KM
  • In 2015 I met a purveyor of Semantic Search wearing a T-shirt reading "John Snow may not be dead, but knowledge management is". Made obsolete by his technology, obviously.
  • And now Big Data and AI and Chatbots and IBM Watson are set to "make KM obsolete".
Yet KM is still here.

All of these technologies have found their place within the KM toolbox over the years, and they have certainly made certain elements of KM work much faster and much more easily, while making little difference to other elements. 

Yet KM as a discipline is still needed.

Enterprise search, for example, makes it far easier to find documented knowledge, but you still need KM to ensure the knowledge is documented in the first place. Enterprise Social Media makes it far easier to set up conversations within a community of practice, but you still need the community of practice in the first place, with its roles, processes, culture, and stores of shared knowledge. Semantic search makes it far easier to retrieve content in context, but content is only half of the content/conversation duo, and retrieval is only half of the supply/demand duo, and technology is only one of the four legs on the KM table, so there is far more to KM than just search.

All of these technologies make KM faster and easier, but none of them replace KM.

Even AI will not replace KM.

AI is a game-changer, for sure. It makes it possible to make new and rapid correlations from within massive datasets, but someone has to create the datasets, and clean them, and then train the AI, and then interpret the correlations and draw knowledge from what they observe (because we all know correlation is not causation). As I posted here, in the context of Big Medical Data at the European Bioinformatics Institute,
Big Data does not become Knowledge because of it's size - people have to add Knowledge to the data to make sense of it. The huge data resources of the EBI have to be combined with the specialist knowledge of the staff, and the application of the knowledge is the sense-making step
Also AI and Big Data still only work in the realm of documents, information and data, and in the processes of analysing and retrieving; they don't help with the transfer and creation of knowledge through conversation, or with tacit knowledge. So AI will be a massively powerful tool in the KM toolbox, but it won't replace the toolbox. We will need the roles and the processes and the governance to interplay with the technology. KM shifts up a gear, but still will be needed.

So call me an old grouch, but to date none of the new technologies touted as "the killer of KM" have made KM obsolete, and history suggests that neither will AI. And neither will the new technology that comes along in 5 years time.  They will simplify, disrupt, and accelerate KM, but not replace it.

To the extent that people need to use knowledge to make decisions and judgments, then Knowledge Management will be augmented by technology, but not replaced.

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