When was the last time you saw or heard of a police officer pulling a driver over for not stopping at a give-way or stop sign, changing lanes without indicating, not stopping at a pedestrian crossing or turning right or left without indicating? Twenty years ago, these were considered serious traffic violations and resulted in nasty fines and loss of points. Not now. The police don’t bother with them anymore. I often wonder why not. It seems to me that the police are more interested in stopping drivers for technologically detected offences these days. The gadgetry in the modern police car not only tells the officer whether a person is speeding or not but lets him or her know whether the car is properly registered, insured or stolen.
Cops being de-skilled through technology?
When the officer is done with booking speeders and drivers driving unregistered vehicles the officer can then set up a random breath testing / drug testing operation where technology is used to nab drunk drivers and illicit drug users. Ludicrously, I recently heard that some Australian governments are testing devices designed to detect drivers holding their phones in their hands while driving. While this sounds like a miraculous piece of technology I can’t help wondering whether implementing more technology that takes away a police officer’s need to use sensory skills and hard won instinct for detecting offences is not slowly deskilling the police force.
Is the reason why a driver can get away with not stopping at a pedestrian crossing or changing lanes without indicating simply because cops don’t notice that stuff any more because they are busy working with their technology? Is a police officer’s use of eyes, ears, nose, touch, intelligence, experience and instinct to detect less than kosher driving so limited now by their use of detection technology that cops just don’t know how to do that other stuff anymore?
Maybe refs will stop bothering to pay attention
I can’t help but wonder whether reliance on technology might have a similar impact on the skill of sporting referees and officials. Only last week end a huge cloud was cast over the legitimacy of Melbourne Victory winning the soccer A-League grand final because the one goal scored in the match was later revealed to have been scored after an off-side violation from Melbourne. Video Assisted Refereeing kit had broken down at precisely the wrong time and the touch judge, whose main function is to watch for off-side, missed the call (or, not being sure of the call relied on the video technology to make the call). The goal was awarded, and Melbourne went on to win the match and the championship.
Post-game discussion centred around how VAR had let everyone down. I would argue that it shouldn’t have mattered. Without wishing to lambast the touch line official (everyone makes mistakes) it seems to me that the bigger issue was that the refereeing error should not have been made in the first place. I would argue that line officials should be highly trained, highly skilled and experienced individuals who are unlikely to make such errors. If, in this case, the touch official was relying on the technology to pick up the off-side, well that ended up being really bad. I would add that it is just possible that, over time, referees and other officials will become less diligent and less skilful because they will come to rely on the technology instead of their senses just as seems to have happened with police officers.
What about Rugby League and Rugby Union referees who are now becoming accustomed to referring most of their try-line decisions to “the bunker.” If a referee knows that his or her ruling can be second-guessed by technology, then why would they feel motivated to tune their perceptive skills? Why would a referee bother to keep right up with play and take every possible step to position themselves in exactly the right spot to adjudicate try line decisions if they knew that, in the end, the decision will be made by “the bunker.” Here is another example of where the use of technology is most likely to, over time, reduce the skill of officials.
I have another issue with video assisted refereeing technology. I have no problem with the effectiveness of technology that determines whether a line has been crossed or not (assuming the technology is working at the time… unlike as was the case with the soccer grand final). Determining whether a soccer player is off side or whether a soccer ball has crossed a goal line using technology should be accurate enough for a referee to be able to rely upon. For a video image to accurately determine a multiplicity of other things, as is supposed to happen with the NRL “going to the bunker”, on the other hand, is as dodgy as hell. The reality is that, even with highly trained experts, different people see different things all the time! Psychologists, philosophers and scientists have studied and pondered the problem with perception that sometimes, different people see different things, for ages.
The problem of perception
Check out the images provided in this post. I know that such things are hackneyed but they still make the point about different people seeing different things… or that we cannot always rely on what we think we can see.
Video has a way of doing weird stuff to perception thus making the problem of relying on video even worse. I cannot count the number of times a room full of television commentators, after having watched a video replay in slow motion three or four times, are still in disagreement as to what they claim they can clearly see. The reality is that different people see different things in real life… and these different perceptions are accentuated when using video images. A trained referee in a video bunker is just as likely to have his or her perception distorted by whatever causes the distortions we all experience when watching video, so it seems to me unwise for referees who are closest to the action and can move themselves around to get the best view of the action to relinquish their responsibility for decision making to “the bunker”. The very existence of the video is likely to cause on-field referees to lose their close decision perception skills over time as they rely less and less on their eyes, ears, brain and ability to move to the best location.