By the calendar, we are now two decades beyond the “future” depicted in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film, 2001: A Space Odyssey, yet we are still a long way off from the vision of artificial intelligence (AI) – not to mention space travel – that it portrays. Say what you will about the march of progress, Alexa is no HAL.
So where exactly are we in terms of AI as a commercial technology in 2022? And what ought we to think about the incorporation of AI in knowledge management (KM) systems?
Industry analyst Alan Pelz-Sharpe shared his thoughts on this topic in a recent KMWorld article. For starters, Pelz-Sharpe summarizes the all-too-typical corporate information environment this way: “We have multiple disconnected silos of information, mountains of duplicate files, poor search functionality, and often little-to-no structure or governance applied to knowledge or information assets.” Sadly, this is the case at most organizations when they first approach Northern Light to explore our enterprise knowledge management solution for market and competitive intelligence. It is not uncommon for such organizations to have a glut of uncoordinated Microsoft SharePoint sites on their network – one pharmaceutical company that came to us had 50,000 SharePoint sites… and another 80,000 abandoned SharePoint sites! – which is a recipe for information chaos.
According to Pelz-Sharpe, AI can help organizations bring order to a certain amount of information chaos, but it can’t solve the problem entirely. “AI can handle the sheer scale of information volumes with ease and in a manner that no team of human knowledge management workers could, but that does not mean it does so with 100% accuracy.” He opines that the first two stages of AI adoption – to “assist human knowledge workers, helping them do what they already do better, faster, and more accurately”; and to “augment human knowledge workers, enabling them to do things they couldn’t have done previously” – are completely appropriate for a machine learning system. But he cautions that the third phase – in which “AI conducts autonomous knowledge work, removing the need for a human knowledge worker” – comes with some risk. That’s because making subtle judgments and creatively solving problems are beyond the scope of AI; these tasks remain the unique domain of human beings.
Within a Northern Light SinglePoint™ knowledge management system, AI is employed to assist and augment the human decision maker, not to replace her. AI helps to digest and present information, identify other pieces of information that may be useful to the individual user, and route relevant information to others who may benefit from it. We leave the application of the information – in other words, the business decision-making – to the human being, where it rightly belongs.
So we are in accord with Pelz-Sharpe and his message of both enthusiasm and caution when it comes to AI. As he puts it:
“AI is rapidly changing the technology of KM, and it is providing us with opportunities to manage and actively enable knowledge in ways we could previously only dream of. But that knowledge is the fuel that smart humans need to help them make subtle judgments and creatively solve problems. Subtlety and creativity keep the wheels turning, make every day interesting, and keep us engaged and empowered.”
From Northern Light’s vantage point, 2001 is history, yet 2001 remains firmly in the realm of science fiction. But practical AI is here today, and it is significantly improving the utility of knowledge management systems that deploy it properly.