🔗 Polanyi’s Paradox

Polanyi’s paradox, named in honour of the British-Hungarian philosopher Michael Polanyi, is the theory that human knowledge of how the world functions and capability are, to a large extent, beyond our explicit understanding. The theory was articulated by Michael Polanyi in his book The Tacit Dimension in 1966, but it was economist David Autor that named it as Polanyi’s paradox in his 2014 research paper on “Polanyi’s Paradox and the Shape of Employment Growth”.

Summarised in the slogan "We can know more than we can tell", Polanyi’s paradox is mainly to explain the cognitive phenomenon that there exist many tasks which we, human beings, understand intuitively how to perform but cannot verbalize the rules or procedures behind it. This "self-ignorance" is common to many human activities, from driving a car in traffic to face recognition. As Polanyi argues, humans are relying on their tacit knowledge, which is difficult to adequately express by verbal means, when engaging these tasks. Polanyi's paradox has been widely considered a major obstacle in the fields of AI and automation, since the absence of consciously accessible knowledge creates tremendous difficulty in programming.

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