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What is the Difference Between Knowledge and Intelligence?

Posted by Halvor Nilsen Mar 15, 2017 9:04:51 AM


Sokrates.pngBoth knowledge and intelligence play important roles in decision making. Both represent a refinement of pieces of information, assembled with the intention of providing useful information to someone. But what is really the difference between the two?


Knowledge has been defined, by Plato, no less, as «justified true belief». A more modern definition would be that knowledge is a store of information that can be used to act. We are born with some knowledge, but most is acquired through learning. Good knowledge is essential to our survival both as individuals and as a species.

What is intelligence?

Intelligence, on the other hand, has some alternative meanings. Within the human brain intelligence represents our ability to process information in order to respond to situations and solve problems. Artificial intelligence is the ability for machines to mimic this problem-solving ability. For an organization the word intelligence can be used for the entity’s ability to act and respond to changing circumstances within its surroundings.

A tool for making decisions

Intelligence can also be used as a noun, describing information that has been processed in some way, usually to be utilized as support for decision making. For example, Wikipedia tells us that business intelligence is “the set of strategies, processes, applications, data, products, technologies and technical architectures which are used to support the collection, analysis, presentation and dissemination of business information.” Or, more succinctly, military intelligence “is a military discipline that uses information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions.”

At this level, the difference between knowledge and intelligence in the role as decision support is largely semantic. Both represent a refinement of pieces of information, assembled with the intention of providing useful information to someone.


The science of knowledge

Knowledge management has been established as a scientific discipline since about 1990. While humans have been doing this for thousands of years (at least, the old library in Alexandria was a repository for knowledge, managed by the librarians), it was only fairly recently formalized as a field of its own.

In 1995, researchers Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuk proposed the knowledge spiral to represent the creation of knowledge. They maintained that creation of knowledge consisted of four integrated processes – socialization, externalization, internalization and combination (see figure), all interacting continuously. They distinguish between explicit knowledge – knowledge that can be articulated formally through models or other means – and tacit knowledge – knowledge that has been internalized through sharing, or learning by doing.

knowledge spiral.jpg

In a later article we will look closer at the other side of the coin – intelligence as knowledge used as a basis for decision making, especially within the military domain.

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By: Halvor Nilsen

Halvor Nilsen has background as a computer systems professional, manager and military intelligence officer. He is currently group head of intelligence within Defence Systems at Teleplan Globe.



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