Perhaps the one thing that Korean cities like Busan and Seoul have in common with Hong Kong is the neon. Looking out of a Hong Kong Club window earlier this week around 8 pm I observed the office building light show, as each of the major buildings showed off their neon displays in a winking cacophony of soundless light. Very impressive, and a good backdrop to the intellectual light show the next day, as the opening speaker at the Business Information Industry Association (BIIA) joint event with the Hong Kong Knowledge Management Society and Hong Kong Polytechnic University took us on an intellectual journey into artificial intelligence that all of us following speakers struggled to emulate. But as an exercise in reconciling the thinking of CIO/CTO – level management with the current developments in data analytics the whole meeting could not have been better organized. As well as a vision of the potential futures in machine and system intelligence, it provided here and now guidance eon the reasons why we need to start and continue down this path, and the benefits we may expect to gain from doing so.

But let me start at the beginning. The first speaker, Ben Goertzel, is both an AI expert, and an innovator and entrepreneur. With his colleagues at Aidyia (www.aidyia.com), at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and through his OpenCog Foundation (http://goertzel.org; http://opencog.org) he works both as a developer of new concepts, and of applications in financial services and trading markets. Aidiya “Aidyia is developing advanced artificial intelligence technology to model and predict financial markets. Aidyia’s predictive model will empower programmed trading systems for fund management.” He gave as good a demonstration as you could wish for if you accept Ray Kurzweil’s proposition that machine intelligence will exceed human intelligence by 2045. Yet much of his talk underlined the idea that you do not need belief: there is enough already in the marketplace to persuade us that we are progressively replacing certain tasks in society with machine intelligence, and that this is a beneficial process.

Here then was a session where the AGI element was centre stage, but you did not have to be a follower of Singularity theory or a robotics fanatic to carry away an enduring belief in the ability of men like Ben Goertzel to change entirely the basis upon which we look at the intelligence which we are currently building into the world of solutions and services. So it was heartening after this to hear Euan Semple drawing upon his valuable experience as head of social media at the BBC to persuade us that we need to grow up – and grow into our inheritance as the interpreters and re-users of the most valuable insights available in the unforced and natural communication within the social media network. In other words, social media are vital if we want to contextualize our analytics and give a reality check to what we are doing with data elsewhere.

Which nicely prepared us for the challenge of cloud computing, as presented by Professor Eric Tsui of HK Polytechnic University. But we were soon past conventional cloud environments Professor Tsui believes with great persuasive power that we shall soon exhaust the cost reduction and compliance benefits of the current cloud collaboration. He calls this the “adolescent cloud”, and excited all of us with a vision of the cloud playing a role in Open Innovation, and in Connectionist learning – a Knowledge Cloud. The Tsui theory that the cloud will become a key element in new business model development and rapid re-iteration of service models is an attractive one, and it blends the cloud as a huge data repository firmly into other strands of developmental and analytical thinking. And these mental fireworks had scarcely died down before Professor Nicolas Lesca of the Universite Claude Bernard at Lyon took the stage. His argument – and I suspect that we had the preliminaries of a presentation of several hours – is that data analytics now adds an extra dimension in a way that few of us had considered before. His arguments were all about the interpretation of weak signals, picking up messages from the data which might previously have never been heard or measured, let alone interpreted. How you amplify these signals, and separate noise from content, is the subject of Professor Lesca’s research, and his thinking had a clear resonance for the debate in the room.

For those whose heads were aching with ideas overload, it was good that the last speaker was the present writer, trying to sum up and pull these themes together. Is there a dichotomy between knowledge management and so-called “Big Data”? Not in this conference. Speakers simply added richness and complexity to the increasing importance of knowledge management subsuming all of these AI, social media, cloud computing and weak signalling themes. As a result marketplaces for information grow more rewarding as well as more complex, and the skills base around knowledge work becomes ever more demanding. I hope the Professors in our programme are as good at producing knowledge managers as they obviously are at knowledge research. And one last thought lingered in my mind. Several times in the day we hovered over search. The expression “needle in a haystack” was used, and we pointed out to each other how inappropriate it was. After all, if we knew we were looking for a needle, and that the place where it was to be found was in a haystack, then the job was done. Bring in the metal detector! Yet the first image I recall in the early days of search was of a huge bale of documentation in an advertisement for BRS Search with people crawling all over it – a veritable document haystack. If Knowledge Management has anything to do with that world then all is lost. If we have not disintegrated and disaggregated the document then we are never going to get to a point of data granularity where this new world has a chance of working. At the moment, though no one said it here in Hong Kong, Knowledge managers may be adherents to the brave new world when out of the office, but too many are prisoners of the wicked world of legacy document based systems when they get home.

Please check the websites of BIIA (www.biia.com) and HKKMS (www.hkkms.hk) for further reports and the slide sets from this really interesting meeting.

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