Procedural knowledge is, in general terms, the type of knowledge someone has and demonstrates through the procedure of doing something. This is in contrast to declarative knowledge, which is a type of knowledge that indicates someone knows about something and can be a more abstract understanding rather than a practical understanding. The term can be used in several different contexts, such as cognitive psychology and intellectual property law, and tends to mean somewhat different things within those contexts. As intellectual property, for example, it typically indicates a bundle of information often considered a “trade secret” that can be owned by a company.
There are three basic uses of procedural knowledge, and each use is typically understood within the context of a different field of study. In cognitive psychology — the study of how people understand things and how the mind works to gain, recall, and use knowledge — procedural knowledge is typically viewed as the knowledge of how to do something. This is often unconscious knowledge and though someone may demonstrate it, it can be something otherwise not considered by the person. For example, a baker may know when dough is ready by feeling it, but have a hard time explaining that precise feeling to someone else.
Similarly, procedural knowledge in this sense can be something someone knows how to do without ever even considering it. For example, most people learn to talk and communicate verbally during infant and early childhood development. While people are able to communicate in this way, most people do not actually think about how they form words and express ideas verbally. This is procedural knowledge, and not declarative knowledge.
In business, procedural knowledge is information that represents a “trade secret” or information that is the intellectual property of a company and is highly valuable to the business. It usually indicates how something is made and often consists of secret information and public information. This type of knowledge can be transferred with the purchase of a company and unauthorized release or sale of this information can often be illegal.
Within the context of artificial intelligence development, procedural knowledge is used to describe programming that indicates how to do something for an artificial intelligence. This type of programming includes a number of different procedures the artificial intelligence could perform, and then allows the system to complete those tasks. In a declarative knowledge based artificial intelligence, the system knows what it could do, rather than specific procedures, and then a secondary program utilizes the proper knowledge in an effective way.