Last week the writer Jon Ronson had a run-in with a group of university lecturers who had created a twitter account very similar to Ronson's own, and used an avatar made from his picture.
It wasn't a fake account as such, although there was some disagreement over what it actually was. Ronson called it a spambot, the lecturers said it was an infomorph. What it did was to source information from Ronson's wikipedia entry and his geographical area of London, use it to invent a persona for itself, and begin spewing out tweets. Some of it was nonsense, some of it was, by default, funny. Ronson quite rightly felt put upon, and made a little film about his confrontation with the spambot builders (This was funny too - Ronson: 'It tweeted 'I like time and cock'! Lecturer: 'And do you?'; Ronson: 'Yes! I mean no!')
The infomorph's future application seemed to be as a kind of outrider of the virtual horizons, sent ahead to a particular location to pull in information and relay it back. As such it had certain random, human qualities. By exercising those, it could infuriate as well as serve. I thought of it when David Hopps at cricinfo referred to 'the philosophy' behind the DRS, because the philosophy is what it's about, and that philosophy is becoming obscured by the DRS' more immediate effects.
In essence the DRS exists to enhance human judgment rather than replace it. It's not the technology itself that has reshaped the game, but the humans using it. Umpires have given more decisions because DRS has shown them that they're right to do so. In turn, it has changed the way bowlers bowl and batsmen bat, how fields are set, how long matches take. What the technology has revealed is how accurate humans can be.
Emboldened, our human accuracy is now questioning the judgment of the machines. This is a good thing, and the predictive element of the ball-tracking system, patently wrong in some cases, will either improve or become something else.
When DRS began we expected it to produce absolutes, because that is what technology does: it has lumpen computing power beyond our reach. Yet, perhaps surprisingly, that is not what has happened. Instead, it has required interpretation; it has posed questions, demanded more from us.
At the heart of DRS has been a paradox of the Schrodinger's Cat kind, that a player can be both in and out to the same ball depending on the umpire's initial judgment. This is something that wasn't foreseen, and it is sometimes hard to defend. For a long time, this blog was against it. An ambiguity like this one runs against the existing concept of technology, which is there to give us an answer, not to throw the question back.
Were this paradox to be applied strictly to the first stated aim of the DRS - to overturn blatantly bad decisions - then there would be no paradox, because it only occurs on marginal calls. But the 'obvious howler' position has never been workable. Ironically, you don't even really need DRS to resolve those, just a TV replay. Instead, we quickly reverted to the usual human requirement for technology: be certain for us.
Now we've discovered that in cricket, rather marvellously, not even technology can be certain, and this demands, as David Hopps suggested, a philosophy for the way we use it. One of the most accurate measurements that DRS has given us is how good the umpires are - right way over ninety per cent of the time. That is the building block for the technology to use in its next phase.
DRS needs to be regarded as an augment to, and an enhancement of, umpiring. For it to become a more organic part of that process, it can't remain a tactical part of the game. The deeply flawed logic that each side has two successful appeals per innings not only blurs the lines between players and umpires, it politicises decision-making and mitigates against fairness (for example when a player left without review is wrongly given out or a fielding side has no remedy when pushing for a win). We're now in the ludicrous position where certain captains are praised for the way they work a system instigated to increase equality, and umpires have been hacked off at the knees by their colleagues for giving perfectly defendable decisions.
Instead we should regard the three umpires and the DRS as a revolving team, and remove the term 'review' from the acronym. The solution is simple enough: the umpires rotate throughout the game, each taking a turn handling the technology on a session-by-session basis. As an integrated unit, each decision can be made using technology where appropriate. The on-field umpire may give an immediate judgment, or he may use the third man before offering it. It's a small shift, but one that removes the notion of the technology bringing an element of challenge to the process.
This way, the DRS - or DS as it might be renamed - fulfills its philosophical aim as an enhancement, while acknowledging the obvious glory of the game; that whether playing or umpiring, it is a fully human endeavour, sometimes random, occasionally maddening, always evolving.
On Talking and Writing about Cricket
3 weeks ago