Monday, 8 April 2013

The Future Of Cheating

I went to an orienteering event on Saturday. Orienteering is a race through a set of waypoints on a map; what sets it apart from a regular running race is the need to navigate via the map. Obviously it would be easy to cheat with a smartphone. Currently it's not hard to ensure people don't carry or use smartphones during the race. However, it's going to get increasingly difficult to detect cheating as technology progresses into smartphone watches, Google Glasses, and ultimately body implants. It doesn't seem practical to use X-rays or MRI scans on every participant, even if that would work.

Similar cheating problems are already happening in chess, and in written exams. Casinos grapple with these issues too.

It seems likely that any competitive event where real-time computer assistance (including communication with other humans) would be useful will sooner or later become practically impossible to secure against cheating. This will have profound effects. Even when people choose not to cheat, not knowing whether the game is fair is corrosive. Enjoy competitive games while you can.

This is going to be a problem for job interviews too.


  1. Some of these are maybe (emphasis on "maybe") easier to secure than others, depending on what you want. E.g. you could hold chess matches in Faraday cages to ensure that there is no communication with other humans. You'd still get some sort of computer assistance, of course; Vinge has some of this in The Peace War, and computer+human chess tournaments are already happening.

    Doing orienteering in a Faraday cage is an obvious non-starter, though. :(

  2. Most of our teachers were very strict about what we can and can't use during tests. No computer, no calculator, no books, no notes, no extra papers. However, one teacher (Geography) was very open - you were allowed pretty much anything (this was before laptops) as long as you didn't disturb others. But the questions were not those you could answer using just encyclopedia. There were short essay questions, funny questions ("How would you destroy this school so that it looked like a natural disaster?") and things you had to explain. These tests were much harder, and much more fulfilling, than any multiple choice I've ever seen.

    So I guess some games will be ruined by cheating, but this will give way to more complex games that are opened by it. Plus, some games rely on the code of honor even now, and I think it's working fine (unless you are in the top100).

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