So here’s the summary:
[T]he knowledge economy is less about knowledge management than about knowledge creation— creativity and innovation. Creativity is fast becoming the competitive advantage for leading-edge companies.
As creativity becomes more important, one of the most powerful tools is still the human brain, with its ability to hold tacit knowledge—to synthesize information, see patterns, derive insight, and create something new. This ability has yet to be programmed into a computer system. What’s more, we are discovering that it’s not just the lone human brain working on its own that creates the best innovation these days, but the human brain in collaboration with other human brains, sometimes with many thousands or millions of others, in social networks enabled by the Internet. In other words, there’s a social aspect to knowledge, creativity, and innovation that we are just learning to tap. It is this social aspect of knowledge that the new knowledge tools are designed to leverage.
They don’t consist of a single device or system but an array of devices, systems, methodologies, and services sometimes called the “intelligent web.” The new tools are applications that exploit things like semantic Web functions, microformats, natural
language searching, data-mining, machine learning, and recommendation agents to provide a more productive and intuitive experience for the user. In other words, the new knowledge tools aren’t meant to replace humans, they are meant to enable humans to do what they do best—creativity and innovation—without having to do the heavy lifting of brute information processing….
Organizations are in the middle of a paradigm shift from machine-heavy knowledge management tools designed to maximize efficiency and standardize organizational practices to technically lightweight, human-centered instruments that facilitate creativity and collaboration. It is this human creativity that will differentiate businesses in the future.
Today’s generation of knowledge tools—interrelational databases like Freebase and DBPedia, social networks like OpenSocial, information accessing tools like Snapshots—are flexible and relatively easy for individuals and groups to learn, and thus can serve as “outboard” brains. The result is a kind of human–machine symbiosis in which processing-heavy tasks are offloaded onto software, leaving users to collaborate more freely with each other in search of insight, creativity, and experience.
Even as this new generation of knowledge tools evolves, traditional knowledge management will continue to matter, just as agriculture and manufacturing still have a place in service economies. Companies will continue to track resources, process payroll, maintain centralized databases, and manage IT infrastructures. But the new leading edge will not be organized mainly around management, but discovery; using systems to augment human imagination and creativity.
A report on “Knowledge Tools of the Future” that I co-authored with Mike Love (not the Beach Boy, the other one) is now available on the IFTF Web site. For those of you too lazy to download the PDF, I’ve summarized it in the extended post. For those too lazy to click on the “Read More,” it comes down to this:
Computers + communities = best.
That’s pretty much it. There’s also some philosophical (or sociological, depending on team you play or root for) stuff about the nature of knowledge, and the degree to which knowledge tools have to be social; the different types of intelligence that humans and computers exhibit (something I’ve also written about on The End of Cyberspace); and the future of memory.
It also lays out an argument for why simple, social, and symbiotic knowledge tools are triumphing over complex ones– why the mouse conquered the world, but the chord keyboard and the rest of Doug Engelbart’s system languishes in obscurity.
Update: It occurs to me that this is one of a number of pieces that I wrote or co-authored that are available on the IFTF Web site. Others include:
- The Next Scientific Revolution
- Ecoscience in the Marketplace
- DIY Manufacturing
- Simulation and the Future of Virtuality
- Intentional Biology: Nature as Source and Code
- Science and Technology 2005-2055
- The Future of RFID
- The Future of R&D