You’ve no doubt heard many theories about what artificial intelligence (AI) may mean for the future of work, like whether computers will replace people in some (or many) jobs. In 2024, with generative AI catching fire and enterprises aggressively exploring ways to productively (and securely) use the new technology, the topic is garnering even more interest.
Knowledge workers shouldn’t fear generative AI
A recent article in The Harvard Business Review, entitled “How Generative AI Will Transform Knowledge Work,” takes a clear-eyed look at this question and seeks to quell some of the fear. The authors see great potential in gen AI as an aid to help people manage knowledge; they write:
“The key is to use generative AI to manage the flood of information washing past you every day. Humans have limited cognitive information processing capacity. On the other hand, most knowledge workers today are inundated with a high-velocity in-flow of digital information and always-on communications. This crush of information is creating a ‘digital debt’: an ever-increasing backlog of information waiting to be processed by each knowledge worker.”
It stands to reason, then, that a prime target for generative AI would be knowledge management (KM) systems. Given what gen AI is especially good at – aiding and abetting content discovery and synthesis – embedding such capabilities in a knowledge management application feels like a perfect fit.
Generative AI is an asset to knowledge management systems
Generative AI is already a practical reality in some enterprise KM use cases. One is helping business researchers get answers to their market and competitive intelligence questions. In this instance, generative AI is effectively providing a new and better interface for search – the first significant improvement in search in 30 years – as professionals seek to mine their organization’s research content for insights.
This generative AI application falls into the category of “boosting your cognitive capacity for unstructured tasks,” in the language of the HBR article authors. In plain English, that means the technology provides a tool to help knowledge workers think about (and ultimately solve) a problem or make an informed decision.
Generative AI can prompt better business research questions
The market and competitive intelligence research application described above addresses another benefit of generative AI noted by the authors: asking better questions about the challenges users face. When a research question posed to the knowledge management system by a user delivers an accurate answer that directly addresses the topic of inquiry – note that accuracy is largely dependent upon the source material upon which the answer is based, as well as a well framed question and a precise prompt – the user may discover themes for further inquiry and follow-up questions to ask.
As the authors of the HBR article note, “Instead of automating your job away, the power of generative AI can help to improve your ability to do cognitively challenging knowledge work.” In other words, get on the generative AI train to do your job better, rather than worrying about losing it.