prev "Autoformalisation - Knowledge acquisition of professional skills" by Gregory Gromov,
   Microprocessor Devices & Systems, Moscow, 1986, N 3, p.80--91, Chapter 4


The Structure of Collections of Professional Knowledge

In order to estimate the relative volumes of different layers of professional knowledge acquired by mankind, let us conduct a very simple experiment. I shall ask questions one by one, and you will try to find answers to these questions for yourselves. Later on, we shall compare the results. Let us say that your knowledge in the field you yourselves believe to be your strong suit professionally is 100%. And now try to estimate how much of this knowledge you would be able to impart to your closest colleague, that is to a person who works with you and understands you better than most.

    In my estimation, using all available means of communication (speech, facial expressions, gestures, drawings, etc.) you would be able to explain to your closest colleague no more than 20 or even 10 percent of the total volume of your professional knowledge. Now let us suppose that you can only communicate with your colleague in writing. In this case, I do not believe that you would be able to communicate more than 1% of your knowledge, even using all of the richly expressive textual forms of natural language. Finally, let us assume that out of all the methods of communication that you have at your disposal nothing but languages of formalized description, such as mathematical formulas, known programming languages, and the like. In this case, you would be able to communicate still less of your knowledge, by several orders of magnitude...

 The total area of human professional activity that can be in principle formalized and consequently automatically controlled by computers is figuratively speaking only a thin film of formalized knowledge, slightly covering the surface of the ocean of non-formalized knowledge accumulated by human culture. It is this thin ‘film’ that until quite recently remained the only area where computer methods were applicable in solving intellectual problems. The ratio between the thickness of this film characterizing the part of human knowledge available to known methods of formalization and the total depth of professional knowledge which people whose work is proposed to be entrusted to computers are using in their daily activities today gives an indication of how much could be gained with the full implementation of computers, but attempts to disregard the limitations on computers’ capability or to simply ignore them often caused considerable economic miscalculations, managerial blunders, and enormous waste, as was the case with notorious automatic control systems of the mid-1970s.

In other words, the general structure of accumulated professional knowledge supply can be represented by a pyramid, rapidly narrowing at the top. The base of this ‘pyramid of knowledge’ is made of the thickest layer of knowledge, which until recently was practically inaccessible from outside. This layer consists of elements of knowledge and skills individually acquired by experts, which in principle cannot be alienated from their authors by traditional methods of formalization, i.e.: "I can do it, but I do not know how to explain it."

Above this layer can be found a layer of much smaller relative volume, comprising the knowledge that can only be communicated over the course of long-term collaboration: “Do as I do!”

Further up, there lies a layer with correspondingly smaller relative volume representing the knowledge that can be imparted in the course of traditional education: “I can try and explain it during a finite series of lectures and a month of practical work in the laboratory, though I am not sure that it can be formally described”.

Last is the pyramid’s vertex, hardly discernible from the underlying layers of knowledge, which represents formalized knowledge.

. . .the appearance of computers, these information processing machines, in the mid-20th century made the recording and long-term storage of mathematically formalized professional knowledge possible in a form that—for the first time in human history—allowed this knowledge to directly affect the operation of  production equipment, thus eliminating the intermediate stages of knowledge’s interaction with humankind.

Up to now only the insignificantly small, uppermost layer of the total body of professional knowledge involved in actual production processes rendered itself available for computer automation. Apparently, this is the main reason for the relatively feeble influence the computer has exerted until now on macroeconomic indices of economic trends in industrially-developed countries. We have reason to believe that improvements in the economic efficiency of the integration of computers in national economies, which presumably will be manifested on the macroeconomic level by the early 1990’s, will be connected with the ‘personal computing’ phenomenon.


 "Autoformalisation - Knowledge acquisition of professional skills" by Gregory Gromov,
   Microprocessor Devices & Systems, Moscow, 1986, N 3, p.80--91, Chapter 4

  Copyright © 1986-2011 Gregory Gromov