Knowledge Management: from Prehistory to the Era of Artificial Knowledge
1 July 2018
I constantly ask myself, how did we do without….?
How did we do without cellular phones, air conditioning, motored vehicles and even computers. I recently met a friend and casually discussed various subjects: family, relationships, the 2018 World Cup tournament. When the "how did we ever do without" question arose, a long conversation led to an interesting yet very simple conclusion: you can do without something when you know nothing of its existence or possibility. This conversation started with my friend inquiring about the Knowledge Management start-up company I founded two years ago; my friend, whom I haven't met in a while, was very interested in what I've been up to. So I shared my insights from the world of Knowledge Management and what I think is necessary to take this field to the next level.
The world of Knowledge Management includes the world's most ancient management methodology; this is essentially a memory-oriented methodology that requires aspects of management during the experiential phase. Knowledge Management, whether personal or organizational, is assessed according to its retrieval of relevant knowledge in the right place and at the right time while performing daily routines. From a historical perspective, memory processes and Knowledge Management can be traced back to the Prehistoric Era and are still challenging to an age of such advanced technologies. An in-depth analysis of these technologies leads to chronologically dividing them into four time periods:
The first period: The Prehistoric era. When someone did not know how to perform a certain task, they had to approach another person and hope that he/she might possess this knowledge. For example, if a prehistoric man wanted to go fishing he had to search for another person with knowledge in this field. Only a physical encounter in which the information was verbally shared could enable acquiring knowledge regardless of the quality of said acquired knowledge. This process consumed much of the prehistoric man's time, since it could take weeks or even years to find, let alone learn, the knowledge required for performing a single task.
The second period: The era of literacy. This era, which began approximately 5,300 years ago in the Mesopotamian Empire, enabled people to distribute the knowledge more efficiently than in the previous era. Thus, when a wise man writes something, this scribe could be distributed to several people simultaneously. Acquiring, retaining and distributing knowledge in this era was considered the best technology for thousands of years and enabled many optimization processes. IT can be safely said that literacy saved the average person days or even weeks of Knowledge Management processes as well as made execution processes quicker and more efficient.
The third period begun 40 years ago with the invention of the Personal Computer. Steve Jobs (whom some say is the inventor of the PC) has a vision in which both processing and acquiring knowledge are performed in one location. This era also includes Google and cellular phones; the combination of these two has led us to an age in which all the data in the world is literally at our fingertips constantly. Obviously, this era has led to unprecedented efficiency in the world of Knowledge Management and has made the average person many times smarter. In terms of time, it seems that the computerized age has led us to a state in which we do not spend entire days and weeks searching for information to perform a single task; rather, we integrate the data searches into our daily work routines. On one hand, we must be very proud of our advancement from years to few hours required for an extensive search. On the other hand, we are experiencing another serious problem: the information overload.
The ability to access all the data in the world with the click of a button actually makes finding answers/solutions harder since in a competitive world in which anyone and everyone can access the data the best answer is in the hands of those most efficient in processing the data rather than displaying it. A study recently published by the International Data Company (IDC) states that the average Knowledge Worker (i.e. anyone that opens a computer during work) wastes an average of 2-3 hours on a daily basis searching for information and performing tasks someone in their organization has already performed. This surely can lead anyone to a state of helplessness that in turn leads to "gambling" when attempting to select the best data available. Furthermore, these arduous searches lead the exhausted worker to just go with whatever they remember. Absurdly, we are displaying symptoms of the Prehistoric Era.
But no despair; the technological world bears good news. Thus, two and a half years ago the good people at the Waze application development department came up with a feature that connects to our schedule. And so while sitting in my office my phone suddenly told me I should be on my way. Here's the explanation: when there are countless possibilities to get from one point to another and multitudes of sources of information regarding traffic and transportation data, we have grown accustomed to neglecting them: just open the app and get going. This era, which I refer to as the "Era of Artificial Knowledge" is one in which relevant information will reach users by being pushed rather than pulled.
Our conversation concluded with my friend saying "our generation was taught to bring the relevant data to the right place at the right time. This is our job! Can a computer really know how to do this? And if so, this will lead to mass unemployment". I calmed my friend down and responded: "riding the technological wave enables us to waste less time on trivial matters and focus on the more vital issues. Thus, organizations can utilize the same resources better and faster".
We might still not see it clearly, but we are entering a new age in which we won't need to chase information; rather it will find its way to us at the right time and place. Actually, we are already deep into it! Think: how did you find out your distant acquaintance had a birthday?
If we ride this technological wave we might feel the "how did ever function without the data reaching us?" sensation earlier than expected. Search for things? Finding information? Who does that today?