Roger T. Hartley
New Mexico State University
Robert L. Kelsey
New Mexico State University -
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Robert B. Webster
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Making use of multi-media knowledge and information from multiple sources is a problem of knowledge management. Even when a user knows of all the different sources of knowledge available, it is a difficult task finding pertinent knowledge and information within those sources. Finding what is important to the user may mean selecting, filtering, and distilling large quantities of knowledge. In addition, the knowledge is hidden within many different types of formats, representations, and media, including audio, video, paper, and electronic. The problem before us is to use the techniques and philosophy of knowledge management and knowledge engineering to consolidate the knowledge important to a user and deliver it to the user's desktop.
Knowledge management encompasses several different tasks and practices. The tasks include acquiring and collecting knowledge and information from multiple sources, storing and archiving knowledge, accessing knowledge, disseminating and sharing knowledge, and facilitating collaboration [Davenport1996a]. These tasks are often performed by different groups within an organization or even across many organizations. The wide and varied tasks of knowledge management are best approached with help from many disciplines including computer science, business, and cognitive science. Computer science is the technological perspective offering theory and applications in databases, artificial intelligence, and algorithms. The perspective from business offers administrative understanding and practice while the perspective from cognitive science offers insight into the issues of human-computer interaction.
We and our research partners are faced with a problem containing many of the aspects of knowledge management. It is the particular, but not uncommon, problem of multi-source expert knowledge with little or no consolidation. The expert knowledge lies not just within humans but in databases, Web servers, audio and video tapes, papers, drawings, CAD files, and simulations. While it is true that not every piece within the various media is valuable knowledge, all the media must be retained for historical purposes. This suggests the need for another aspect of knowledge management, filtering and selection, so that only pertinent and useful information will be presented to the user.
The size and number of media also contribute to the problem. An early estimate believes the paper documents alone to number around 50,000. The digitizing of paper documents is seen as a necessity for better preservation and as a step towards on-line use, but translation of paper documents and other media to a single uniform knowledge representation strategy is out of the question. The scalability and diverse nature of the media would make a single representation strategy difficult. Also, all of this knowledge and its many forms are artifact or pre-existing. Had this been an issue of planning for the future, then a single representation strategy might be possible or at least worth investigating. Instead, many (if not all) aspects of knowledge management are needed now.
The users of this knowledge are mainly technical people who are used to their paper documents and skeptical of the unfamiliar. They use computers daily in their work, but not necessarily state-of-the-art equipment and software. This is because they are familiar and used to a particular way of doing things and slow to learn and embrace something new. Without some incentive, these users will not be highly motivated to try out, much less adopt, an on-line replacement of their current system. However, in a knowledge management case study by Davenport [Davenport1996b], some user behavior is identified which could act as a catalyst to motivate users.
The case study says "technical people will normally not travel beyond 40 feet for information." [Davenport1996b] This suggests that knowledge and/or access of knowledge should be consolidated at the user's desktop. Human-computer interaction issues suggest that if a system is on-line, then it should still provide the user with familiar formats and tools. This is part of good user-interface design. Another factor from Davenport [Davenport1996b] says users do not often know exactly what information they are looking for or trying to obtain. Better querying of information may be facilitated with intelligent agents or tools. In any case, the users of any system play an important role in the design of the system. Participation from users must be sought early and encouraged throughout the design and implementation stages.
This project is still in its very early stages. We are only beginning to understand the magnitude of the problem with it many parts and pieces. We believe this project can benefit from the philosophy and techniques of knowledge management as well as gain insight from those who have investigated areas of knowledge management. We also believe that this project will contribute to areas of knowledge management.