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What is a knowledge worker?

Charlie Child
Oct 5, 2021

What is a knowledge worker?

2 min read

A knowledge worker is someone who is paid for what they know. There are no further limits on the definition; almost every kind of worker could be thought of as a knowledge worker, even those involved in physical labor.

A surgeon is a knowledge worker. They are paid for the act of surgery, but also for the knowledge that allows them to diagnose, assess surgical possibilities, and detail aftercare routines.

But the surgeon is still a surgeon; ‘knowledge worker’ is only a partial description of the work they can do, which is why it may also be useful to think about knowledge work, rather than worker. It does not define the person or profession, but the type of work. Anyone, anywhere, could be paid for what they know to complement — or replace — what they do.

Why are knowledge workers important?

Because they signify a shift away from the physical economy, in which economic power is defined by land, financial assets, material resources, and physical skills. 

The term “knowledge worker” was first coined by MIT economist Peter Drucker in the 1950s. In this essay from 1992, he states: “knowledge is the primary resource for individuals and for the economy overall.”

The movement is towards valuing the abstract. The digital age ripens the time for knowledge work, because who, where, and when work is done becomes increasingly unimportant. It demonstrates a new way to value — and pay — workers. 

Everyone knows something that is valuable to someone

Anyone who can identify an image of a crosswalk can help a driverless car algorithm; any native speaker of a language can help improve translation services. The first partner application to run on top of HUMAN Protocol was hCaptcha, which created a market that placed a value on such intuitive, human knowledge. It is preferred by many to Google’s reCAPTCHA, precisely because it realizes the value contributed by knowledge workers, whereas Google harvests the valuable data for free. 

HUMAN Protocol is designed to extend the principle; to provide the infrastructure for automated marketplaces where knowledge workers of almost any kind could contribute and be paid for what they know.

“I think we often underestimate the potential power of [the] hyperconnectivity among the seven billion or so amazingly powerful information processors called human brains that are already on our planet.” — Thomas Mason, MIT 

Connecting workers with organizations

The limitation has been the system of connecting the one who knows with the one who wants that information. There are examples of organizations that do this, such as Upwork. A few of the problems include:

  • Limits on the kind of work.
  • (Therefore) limits on the workers who can sign up, and limits on the organizations that can ask for work.
  • Built on archaic financial structures, they cannot support global micro transactions. Knowledge work can be anything; from designing a skyscraper, to identifying which face is smiling in a picture. The key is to be able to pay both; to open up the definition of knowledge worker to include all individuals. 

Knowledge workers become defined by the systems that intermediate between them and those who are buying their knowledge. 

But remember, everyone knows something that is valuable to someone. So why limit the possibilities? 

HUMAN Protocol 

HUMAN Protocol is designed to be decentralized, open, and permissionless, and to allow the market to choose what kind of work is of value. It provides the tools — and the infrastructure to bring new tools — which can unleash that value. 

While it may be true that everyone knows something that is valuable to someone, what remains is to understand how to connect them, and how to define who knows what that is of value to whom. How, in other words, to match supply with demand, and realize the value of knowledge.

This is aptly covered in Drucker’s essay

 “… specialized knowledge by itself produces nothing. It can become productive only when it is integrated into a task. And that is why the knowledge society is also a society of organizations: the purpose and function of every organization, business and non-business alike, is the integration of specialized knowledge into a common task.”

The key to igniting the knowledge worker revolution is organization. Knowledge workers “must have autonomy”, as Drucker states, but they must also operate within a loose, broader structure that allows for them to answer a defined question that represents value to someone, that quantifies knowledge via defined tasks. 

Therein lies the purpose of HUMAN Protocol; it is the vehicle that facilitates the organization of knowledge workers, to turn them from untapped potential, to a key, valuable — and paid — workforce. 

Upwork or Mechanical Turk may define a task, but the structures of centralization built on old technology limit the kinds of tasks, the kind of questioner, and the kind of worker. They limit the flow of knowledge, and the potential upside of network effects, which we discuss as Metcalfe’s law in this article.

HUMAN facilitates organization, while decentralizing away the rules to allow for an open system, free for anyone to use. A system that can represent each voice, and value each voice. 

Because there has been no way to broadly, openly connect these people (or machines), there has been limited thinking about the scope of possible applications. Just as we did not think of Facebook before the Internet, similarly we have not thought of what work could be done in this manner. New capabilities birth new possibilities. To give the community an idea of what job markets can be created via the Protocol, we will be releasing an article soon on the topic.

For the latest updates on HUMAN Protocol, follow us on Twitter or join our Discord. Alternatively, to enquire about integrations, usage, or to learn more about HUMAN Protocol, get in contact with the HUMAN team.

Legal Disclaimer

The HUMAN Protocol Foundation makes no representation, warranty, or undertaking, express or implied, as to the accuracy, reliability, completeness, or reasonableness of the information contained here. Any assumptions, opinions, and estimations expressed constitute the HUMAN Protocol Foundation’s judgment as of the time of publishing and are subject to change without notice. Any projection contained within the information presented here is based on a number of assumptions, and there can be no guarantee that any projected outcomes will be achieved.

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