Building intelligent tech | Experts and the knowledge engineering process

Intelligent technologies like expert systems are designed to deliver expert knowledge to non-expert users. Finding good subject matter experts and using them the appropriately are critical to success.

The importance of expert knowledge

The knowledge engineering process will depend on the availability of expert knowledge. At least one subject matter expert with specialized domain knowledge must be available and willing to participate in a potentially lengthy process to construct the expert system’s knowledge base.

What makes a good subject matter expert?

By now, it should be clear that a good subject matter expert has a high level of domain knowledge. If you can get the top subject matter experts in the world in a particular domain, you should get them.

An expert also has contact with lots of non-experts in his or her domain should be able to share or appreciate these perspectives – and help to craft a knowledge base that’s easier for non-experts to use.

Subject matter experts aren’t knowledge engineers

Your subject expert doesn’t have to know how knowledge engineering works. The knowledge engineer facilitates the process according to the methodology. By the end of the process, experts will often gain considerable familiarity with the process, and make suggestions for improvements.

Knowledge engineers aren’t researchers

A lack of strong subject matter experts will frustrate the knowledge engineering process. Knowledge engineers cannot and should not be researching the domain on their own. The objective is not to repackage information that’s already available to non-experts (even though this can help). True success depends on making expert knowledge directly available to users through the expert system.

Knowledge engineers attempting to research the domain will miss important nuances that only a true subject matter expert will appreciate. This problem is particularly significant when it comes to the subject matter expert acting as a proxy for non-experts, describing how they see the problem, what their limitations may be, common myths and misconceptions, and what shape a good outcome or result will take for them.

Knowledge engineering can be time consuming to begin with. Requiring knowledge engineers to research the domain during the process can make the process unbearably long, in addition to making it less successful.

Drawing on multiple experts

Expert system knowledge bases can contain knowledge collected from multiple sources. Knowledge engineers can draw on the domain knowledge from one, two or several subject matter experts.

It’s not up to a single subject matter expert to know all the knowledge in the domain. Knowledge engineers can draw on several people to “fill in the blanks” in the knowledge base.

Reliance on multiple experts can also help to provide more balanced content in a knowledge base where users might be in adversarial problems and circumstances. For example, a knowledge base designed to help people with consumer debts can include contributions from lender-oriented experts, as well as borrowers, debt counselors, poverty advocates and more.

Collective intelligence can exist in an expert system’s knowledge base. It just needs to be sourced and created through the knowledge engineering process.

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