I lost on Jeopardy…baby: How can we ever expect to keep up with Watson?

As I sat through the opening Keynote presentation at ILTA 2014, I was amazed at some of the information shared by Peter H. Diamandis, MD. His talk, titled “Innovation on the Road to ABUNDANCE” covered 3 key topics: Technology, Crowdsourcing and Abundance.” I had not heard of some of these new technologies on the horizon, and many of the ideas left me wide-eyed as I realized that the pace of change will only speed up over time. It appears that constant, rapid change is the “new normal.”

During the Technology section of the talk, he showed a brief clip of the Jeopardy episode where 2 champions faced off against the IBM computer, Watson. As I watched Watson answer question after question correctly, thoughts of SkyNet, Terminator 2, and Linda Hamilton flashed through my head…just for a moment.

As I thought about how fast computers are evolving and how soon they will outpace the human brain, I was reminded of a slide I saw in a presentation a couple years ago regarding the amount of knowledge we store in the human brain for work purposes.

The slide references a study on Knowledge Workers done by the Carnegie Mellon professor Robert Kelley. Basically, the percent of information we need to store in our brains to accomplish work tasks has been dramatically decreasing over time. This does not mean we know less now than we did in 1986. We all know there is more data available now than ever before in human history. It is everywhere. There is more computing power in our pockets than NASA had sending a man to the moon. I don’t know if there has been a refresh on the study above, but I imagine we must be down to 5% or so in 2014. For me, this change means that we no longer need to focus on acquiring information to be productive. What is more important now is our ability to search for, access, and leverage information. We need to be able to harness the power of technology in order to carry out our daily tasks.

What kind of impact does this have on the world of learning and development? Is it still important for people to know how to use all the technology they have access to or should they know how to find a reference or an online resource? Do we still need to teach all the features and functions of applications or should we stick to the workflow only and then provide performance support? Should we focus more on helping people search for information or teach them how to learn? Should we spend more time introducing people to the subject matter experts and increasing their awareness of exiting tools? In a world where people need to retain less and access more, how do we help people learn?

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