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tacit knowledge

Tacit knowledge, robots and AI – good read via AEON

A great deal turns on the status of tacit knowledge. On this much the champions of a machine learning-powered revival of command economics and their critics agree. Tacit knowledge is the kind of cognition we refer to when we say that we know more than we can tell. How do you ride a bike? No one can say with any precision. Supervision helps, but a beginner has to figure it out for herself. How do you know that a spot is a freckle and not a cancer? A specialist cannot teach a medical student simply by spelling out her thinking in words. The student has to practise under supervision until she has mastered the skill for herself. This kind of know-how cannot be imparted or downloaded. Can robots assimilate tacit knowledge? Mid-20th-century arguments against centralised planning assumed that they could not. Some of the achievements of machine learning – such as eclipsing specialist doctors at spotting cancer – suggest otherwise. If robots can retain tacit knowledge, AI-powered central planning might well outperform decentralised market interactions in coordinating economic activity. But there is good reason to believe that the mid-century anti-planners were right. Tacit knowledge will probably remain the preserve of....

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