prev "Autoformalisation - Knowledge acquisition of professional skills" by Gregory Gromov,
   Microprocessor Devices & Systems, Moscow, 1986, N 3, p.80--91, Chapter 1


Gregory R. Gromov



For a technology-based civilization, the speed of development is determined to a great extent by the speed of professional knowledge acquisition. The total amount of knowledge potentially available to members of society at any given historical moment depends on the efficiency of the process of separating individually generated elements of knowledge from their primary source and initial repository, their author, who was the first to master a particular new technological method, means, device, etc., and then widely distributing this knowledge.

Sources of Information Technology

At the earliest stages of civilization, professional skills were mainly transmitted by way of personal example in performing productive actions (new ways of hunting, or processing the skins and bones of animals, etc.). Rational ways of organizing group actions and the synchronization of productive efforts were reinforced in ritual dances, songs, folk-lore, and so on, and by these means were passed from one generation to another.

In the socio-historical ‘circuit’ of professional knowledge transfer, interference was considerably reduced with the invention of elementary technology for the long-term physical media-based storage of a set of images deemed most relevant to the acquired knowledge. This innovation came about quite recently, historically speaking, some twenty to thirty thousand years ago, when the first cave art appeared. Human civilization was already several hundred thousand years old by the time.

Six thousand years ago the technology for recording on a material medium character-based information pertaining to the acquired knowledge reached a level where we can identify an era of written language. Over the course of some twenty thousand years, human civilization came all the way from cave paintings to producing clay boards with texts on them. This was the first step in finding more sophisticated methods for coding, interpreting, and storing elements of knowledge on a material medium.

The search for ever-better information-carrying media and tools for data recording began at that time and continues today—from stone to bone, wood, clay, papyrus, silk, paper, luminophores, magnetic and optical media, silicon, magnetic bubble domains, etc.

However, professional knowledge collected as distinct records or books had no way of directly influencing production processes. In order to have a chance of inspiring a new discovery or affecting production processes carried out by other people, the book had to be lucky enough to attract the attention of a reader who then, by a most rare coincidence, also happened to have been primed by previous experience and thus capable to respond by conceiving a new idea in the given field of professional knowledge. In other words, only in this rare, almost improbable case when the author of the book and one of the scant number of readers of this expensive, bound manuscript achieved a constructive resonance could the book contribute to the birth of a new element of knowledge. In this context it is clear what a great impact on technological civilization the invention of the printing-press had, being as it was a machine for publishing knowledge recorded on a material medium.

Book-Printing as the First Information Revolution

In the growth of professional knowledge accumulated by mankind, book-printing played a role similar to the spreading of seeds. Newfound knowledge, recorded on a material medium and widely circulated over great distances, increased considerably the probability that at least one of these ‘seeds’ of knowledge would find fertile ground, maturing and, in turn, dispersing its own message for the future, itself enriched and enhanced by new knowledge.

Stimulated by book-printing, science’s development made for quicker accumulation of field-specific knowledge. It was now possible to rapidly circulate this knowledge and make it available at specialized production sites and facilities, which were more often than not considerably removed from one another in space or time. For instance, when the steam engine was designed, the main technical solutions were discoveries by Denis Papin, a physician (1690), Ivan Polzunov, a shift-leader at Kolyvano-Voznesensky factories (1763), and James Watt, a laboratory assistant at the University in Glasgow (1769}. Friedrich Engels considered the steam engine to be the first truly international invention.

In the three centuries after the printing-press’s invention in 1445, there was the accumulation of a critical mass of publicly-available knowledge, which brought on the avalanche of changes that was called the industrial revolution.

Knowledge, materialized through labor in the production of machines, instruments, new technological processes, and other technical and managerial innovations became a source of new ideas and productive scientific trends. A regenerative cycle began—knowledge informing industrial production, which in turn generated knowledge—and the tightly-knit circle of technological society began to expand with ever-increasing speed. At the beginning of this process, the printing-press was an open valve on the wellsprings of information, drastically increasing the throughput capacity of the public exchange of knowledge.


 "Autoformalisation - Knowledge acquisition of professional skills" by Gregory Gromov,
   Microprocessor Devices & Systems, Moscow, 1986, N 3, p.80--91, Chapter 1

  Copyright © 1986-2011 Gregory Gromov