This is a fascinating glimpse of the future of automatic cheating detection in sports:
Maybe you heard about the truly insane false-start controversy in track and field? Devon Allen—a wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles—was disqualified from the 110-meter hurdles at the World Athletics Championships a few weeks ago for a false start.
Here’s the problem: You can’t see the false start. Nobody can see the false start. By sight, Allen most definitely does not leave before the gun.
But here’s the thing: World Athletics has determined that it is not possible for someone to push off the block within a tenth of a second of the gun without false starting. They have science that shows it is beyond human capabilities to react that fast. Of course there are those (I’m among them) who would tell you that’s nonsense, that’s pseudoscience, there’s no way that they can limit human capabilities like that. There is science that shows it is humanly impossible to hit a fastball. There was once science that showed human beings could not run a four-minute mile.
Besides, do you know what Devon Allen’s reaction time was? It was 0.99 seconds. One thousandth of a second too fast, according to World Athletics’ science. They’re THAT sure that .01 seconds—and EXACTLY .01 seconds—is the limit of human possibilities that they will disqualify an athlete who has trained his whole life for this moment because he reacted one thousandth of a second faster than they think possible?
We in the computer world are used to this sort of thing. “The computer is always right,” even when it’s obviously wrong. But now computers are leaving the world of keyboards and screens, and this sort of thing will become more pervasive. In sports, computer systems are used to detect when a ball is out of bounds in tennis and other games and when a pitch is a strike in baseball. I’m sure there’s more—are computers detecting first downs in football?—but I’m not enough of a sports person to know them.