London Transport

The Knowledge


In the seventies here was a television play by Jack Rosenthal called “The Knowledge”. The title referred to the notoriously difficult exam which London cabbies have to pass before they can get their green badge. It consists of memorizing the grid-less expanse of streets and premises, and takes years of study to obtain. But much more than memory is required. Once the mental cartography  of the city has been stored, it needs to be combined with an ear for breaking traffic news and passing local events, to which the cabbie will then apply his problem-solving skills, in real time, in order to select the quickest route  A complex activity, as demonstrated by a UCL study which found that the hippocampus of a London cabbie is larger than the rest of the population. Testers will enjoy developing a construct for that exam.

I recently got chatting with a driver from Paddington to Waterloo and asked whether satnavs hadn’t rendered the exam obsolete. Not really, he said, conceding that while technology is a wonderful thing, it cannot deal with the contextual knowledge required to survive London’s streets on a day to day basis.  This will be of some comfort to those who fear being replaced by machines

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