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Game changer: The first Olympic games in the cloud



Game changer: The first Olympic games in the cloud

Hosted at an unprecedented time due to the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 Summer Olympics (branded as Tokyo 2020, held in 2021, and officially called Games of the XXXII Olympiad) will be remembered for not just the extraordinary performances of the athletes, but also for being one of the most technologically advanced Games ever hosted.

Cloud technology was used for the first time at the Olympics and, as a technologist, I’m thrilled to see cloud technologies playing an instrumental role in driving the digital transformation of the Games. The cloud infrastructure enabled innovative technology applications, so the Games could successfully overcome many of the hurdles put in place by the pandemic while creating a new foundation for how the Olympic Games—and other major sporting events—will be broadcast, organized, and engage with fans in the future. Needless to say, we are already excited about the opportunities that cloud technology will unlock in future Olympiads.

The biggest technological change since satellite transmission

By way of example of how cloud technology revolutionized Tokyo 2020, we should look at one of the most important components—the global broadcast community serving millions of viewers. The Olympic Broadcasting Services (OBS) produced more than 9,500 hours of content during the Games, 30% more than during Rio 2016, and with some of the content in 8K for the first time. This year in Tokyo, when no spectators were allowed on-site, the role of broadcasters became even more essential for the Games and global fans. 

By collaborating with OBS to support service delivery for rights-holding broadcasters (RHBs) for the very first time, a robust and secure cloud platform called OBS Cloud offered new models for content delivery to drive operational efficiency and greater agility. Operating entirely in the cloud and demonstrating the tremendous flexibility that the technology offers, OBS Cloud was designed to drive real transformation in the media industry and to prepare it for all the opportunities presented by the digital era.

With the pandemic preventing fans from attending the Games, it was imperative that broadcasters globally had access to high-quality content that could be distributed across multiple platforms to help share the drama and the emotion of the Games. To that end, during Tokyo 2020, up to 9,000 short-form content clips were produced by the OBS Content+ crew to help enhance RHB coverage. The clips could be accessed by the RHBs’ digital and social media teams from any location in the world to supplement their own Olympic coverage. This technology enabled broadcasters to cover the Games in a more cost-effective, secure, and flexible way, from any location in the world, ensuring a steady and consistent flow of broadcast content throughout the Games, much to the delight of millions of fans hungry for a slice of the action!

It is easy to understand why this broadcast development excited Yiannis Exarchos, the OBS chief executive officer. In his view, the partnership with Alibaba Cloud has transformed how the Olympic Games were broadcast to the widest possible audience. He reflected on it being “the biggest technological change in the broadcasting industry for more than half a century since the introduction of satellite transmission.” That’s a remarkable landmark, given that satellite transmission was introduced to Olympic broadcast coverage for the first time as far back as 1964.

Also used as part of post-production workflow, the OBS had used the Content+ platform for remote editing and standards conversion, a feature that will be extended as a service to the RHBs for future Olympics.

Protected by the cloud—ensuring staff are safe

Of course,event organizers and working staff are central to the delivery of the Games, and Tokyo 2020 provided its own challenges for them due to the extreme summer heat. To illustrate the risks that Games workers faced, more than 8,000 people in Japan were taken to hospitals suffering from heatstroke symptoms between July 19 and 25 this year, while Tokyo 2020 officially kickstarted on July 23.  

I believe technology can help respond effectively to critical situations like this. That’s why we introduced a cloud-based solution to help reduce the risk of getting heatstroke for the onsite working staff exposed to the weather. Through an intelligent in-ear device, the technology helped keep track of staffers’ body temperature and heart rate. Based on this information and the surrounding heat index (including temperature, humidity, and direct or radiant sunlight), a cloud-based system identified the level of heatstroke risk in real time. Alerts were then sent to staff exposed to a high level of risk, along with recommended precautionary measures—such as drinking more water—to reduce the chances of getting heatstroke.

The innovation that was well-received by Hidemasa Nakamura, chief of the Main Operations Centre of the Tokyo Organizing Committee for the Olympic and Paralympic Games (TOCOG). Perhaps even more importantly, it was well-received by Games workers; as it turned out, Tokyo 2020 was reported to be one of the hottest Olympic Games in history.

Ongoing engagement with fans

Regretfully, the pandemic prevented global fans from being present at the Games. But technology can always play a positive role in addressing challenges. Last year, we spent significant time working with TOCOG on a digital remote fan engagement program called “Share the Passion.” Leveraging the cloud and digital editing technology, this fantastic project encouraged sports fans globally to support their favorite teams and athletes on a more personal level, wherever the fan or the team is based. It took advantage of AI-powered technology to aggregate real-time videos uploaded by fans on social media platforms, and broadcast them in venues to deliver cheers, support, and motivation for the athletes. You can imagine the excitement that this innovative solution provided, while projecting high-energy, positive vibes among fans and athletes alike with the audience’s cheers filling the arena.

Connection is irreplaceable, and Olympic Games are one of the best examples of connectivity between fans and athletes, different generations, and sports communities across borders. Holding true to this value, we created our first Cloud Pin, a cloud-based digital pin designed for broadcast and media professionals working relentlessly to cover the Games for all of us. The wearable digital device enables the contact-free exchange of information, and was designed to help media professionals working at the International Broadcasting Centre and Main Press Centre to connect with each other and exchange social media handles in a safe and interactive manner. Worn either as a badge or attached to a lanyard, it marries the convention of swapping contact details with real-time, cloud-based convenience.

Other exciting initiatives further encouraged fan and audience participation. For instance, the IOC launched The Olympic Store on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Tmall. In addition to being a global store for fans seeking official Olympic-branded merchandise, it also acts as an information portal to help keep fans up to date with all the latest Olympic news and information. It’s a place where retail and commerce merge to further delight sports fans, while taking the Games into a new era of fan participation.

Unleashing athletes’ full potential

Other beneficiaries of cloud technology—and many would say the most important—were the athletes themselves, through a technology called 3D Athlete Tracking (3DAT).

In collaboration with Intel, 3DAT gives audiences professional insights into athletes’ performance as it happens. Without the need for motion-tracking sensors, 3DAT leverages standard video, AI, and computer vision to extract over 20 points in 3D on the athlete’s body, transforming those data into rich visualizations to enhance broadcasters’ storytelling for key events.

Looking ahead to even more exciting sporting experiences

During our first Summer Olympics, we are pleased to have taken our sponsorship role to a new level that goes beyond the traditional commercial package. As an exclusive worldwide partner for cloud services, we are honored to provide a new cloud-based foundation for how the Games were broadcast and operated in many ways. Similarly, we believe that the cloud will play an important role in reshaping the experience of how major sporting events would be broadcast, organized, and shared with fans in the future. We are proud of the role we played in helping Tokyo 2020 to reshape the sports and broadcast industry in an unprecedented way. And we are not stopping there; Tokyo 2020 was just the start of the digitalization journey of the Olympic Games.

This content was produced by Alibaba Cloud. It was not written by MIT Technology Review’s editorial staff.


The Download: Algorithms’ shame trap, and London’s safer road crossings




This is today’s edition of The Download, our weekday newsletter that provides a daily dose of what’s going on in the world of technology.

How algorithms trap us in a cycle of shame

Working in finance at the beginning of the 2008 financial crisis, mathematician Cathy O’Neil got a firsthand look at how much people trusted algorithms—and how much destruction they were causing. Disheartened, she moved to the tech industry, but encountered the same blind faith. After leaving, she wrote a book in 2016 that dismantled the idea that algorithms are objective. 

O’Neil showed how every algorithm is trained on historical data to recognize patterns, and how they break down in damaging ways. Algorithms designed to predict the chance of re-arrest, for example, can unfairly burden people, typically people of color, who are poor, live in the wrong neighborhood, or have untreated mental-­health problems or addictions.

Over time, she came to realize another significant factor that was reinforcing these inequities: shame. Society has been shaming people for things they have no choice or voice in, such as weight or addiction problems, and weaponizing that humiliation. The next step, O’Neill recognized, was fighting back. Read the full story.

—Allison Arieff

London is experimenting with traffic lights that put pedestrians first

The news: For pedestrians, walking in a city can be like navigating an obstacle course. Transport for London, the public body behind transport services in the British capital, has been testing a new type of crossing designed to make getting around the busy streets safer and easier.

How does it work? Instead of waiting for the “green man” as a signal to cross the road, pedestrians will encounter green as the default setting when they approach one of 18 crossings around the city. The light changes to red only when the sensor detects an approaching vehicle—a first in the UK.

How’s it been received? After a trial of nine months, the data is encouraging: there is virtually no impact on traffic, it saves pedestrians time, and it makes them 13% more likely to comply with traffic signals. Read the full story.

—Rachael Revesz

Check out these stories from our new Urbanism issue. You can read the full magazine for yourself and subscribe to get future editions delivered to your door for just $120 a year.

– How social media filters are helping people to explore their gender identity.
– The limitations of tree-planting as a way to mitigate climate change.

Podcast: Who watches the AI that watches students?

A boy wrote about his suicide attempt. He didn’t realize his school’s software was watching. While schools commonly use AI to sift through students’ digital lives and flag keywords that may be considered concerning, critics ask: at what cost to privacy? We delve into this story, and the wider world of school surveillance, in the latest episode of our award-winning podcast, In Machines We Trust.

Check it out here.

ICYMI: Our TR35 list of innovators for 2022

In case you missed it yesterday, our annual TR35 list of the most exciting young minds aged 35 and under is now out! Read it online here or subscribe to read about them in the print edition of our new Urbanism issue here.

The must-reads

I’ve combed the internet to find you today’s most fun/important/scary/fascinating stories about technology.

1 There’s now a crazy patchwork of abortion laws in the US
Overturning Roe has triggered a legal quagmire—including some abortion laws that contract others within the same state. (FT $)
+ Protestors are doxxing the Supreme Court on TikTok. (Motherboard)
+ Planned Parenthood’s abortion scheduling tool could share data. (WP $)
+ Here’s the kind of data state authorities could try to use to prosecute. (WSJ $)
+ Tech firms need to be transparent about what they’re asked to share. (WP $)
+ Here’s what people in the trigger states are Googling. (Vox)

2 Chinese students were lured into spying for Beijing
The recent graduates were tasked with translating hacked documents. (FT $)
+ The FBI accused him of spying for China. It ruined his life. (MIT Technology Review)

3 Why it’s time to adjust our expectations of AI
Researchers are getting fed up with the hype. (WSJ $)
+ Meta still wants to build intelligent machines that learn like humans, though. (Spectrum IEEE)
+ Yann LeCun has a bold new vision for the future of AI. (MIT Technology Review)
+ Understanding how the brain’s neurons really work will aid better AI models. (Economist $)

4 Bitcoin is facing its biggest drop in more than 10 years
The age of freewheeling growth really is coming to an end. (Bloomberg $)
+ The crash is a threat to funds worth millions stolen by North Korea. (Reuters)
+ The cryptoapocalypse could worsen before it levels out. (The Guardian)
+ The EU is one step closer towards regulating crypto. (Reuters)

5 Singapore’s new online safety laws are a thinly-veiled power grab
Empowering its authoritarian government to exert even greater control over civilians. (Rest of World)

6 Recommendations algorithms require effort to work properly
Telling them what you like makes it more likely it’ll present you with decent suggestions. (The Verge)

7 China’s on a mission to find an Earth-like planet
But what they’ll find is anyone’s guess. (Motherboard)
+ The ESA’s Gaia probe is shining a light on what’s floating in the Milky Way. (Wired $) 

8 Inside YouTube’s meta world of video critique
Video creators analyzing other video creators makes for compelling watching. (NYT $)
+ Long-form videos are helping creators to stave off creative burnout. (NBC)

9 Time-pressed daters are vetting potential suitors over video chat
To get the lay of the land before committing to an IRL meet-up. (The Atlantic $)

10 How fandoms shaped the internet
For better—and for worse. (New Yorker $)

Quote of the day

“This is no mere monkey business.”

—A lawsuit filed by Yuga Labs, the creators of the Bored Ape NFT collection, against conceptual artists Ryder Ripps, claims Ripps copied their distinctive simian artwork, Gizmodo reports.

The big story

This restaurant duo want a zero-carbon food system. Can it happen?

September 2020

When Karen Leibowitz and Anthony Myint opened The Perennial, the most ambitious and expensive restaurant of their careers, they had a grand vision: they wanted it to be completely carbon-neutral. Their “laboratory of environmentalism in the food world” opened in San Francisco in January 2016, and its pièce de résistance was serving meat with a dramatically lower carbon footprint than normal. 

Myint and Leibowitz realized they were on to something much bigger—and that the easiest, most practical way to tackle global warming might be through food. But they also realized that what has been called the “country’s most sustainable restaurant” couldn’t fix the broken system by itself. So in early 2019, they dared themselves to do something else that nobody expected. They shut The Perennial down. Read the full story.

—Clint Rainey

We can still have nice things

A place for comfort, fun and distraction in these weird times. (Got any ideas? Drop me a line or tweet ’em at me.)

+ A look inside the UK’s blossoming trainspotting scene (don’t worry, it’s nothing to do with the Irvine Welsh novel of the same name.)
+ This is the very definition of a burn.
+ A solid science joke.
+ This amusing Twitter account compiles some of the strangest public Spotify playlists out there (Shout out to Rappers With Memory Problems)
+ Have you been lucky enough to see any of these weird and wonderful buildings in person?

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The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions



The US Supreme Court just gutted the EPA’s power to regulate emissions

What was the ruling?

The decision states that the EPA’s actions in a 2015 rule, which included caps on emissions from power plants, overstepped the agency’s authority.

“Capping carbon dioxide emissions at a level that will force a nationwide transition away from the use of coal to generate electricity may be a sensible ‘solution to the crisis of the day,’” the decision reads. “But it is not plausible that Congress gave EPA the authority to adopt on its own such a regulatory scheme.”

Only Congress has the power to make “a decision of such magnitude and consequence,” it continues. 

This decision is likely to have “broad implications,” says Deborah Sivas, an environmental law professor at Stanford University. The court is not only constraining what the EPA can do on climate policy going forward, she adds; this opinion “seems to be a major blow for agency deference,” meaning that other agencies could face limitations in the future as well.

The ruling, which is the latest in a string of bombshell cases from the court, fell largely along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts authored the majority opinion, and he was joined by his fellow conservatives: Justices Samuel Alito, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Clarence Thomas. Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

What is the decision all about?

The main question in the case was how much power the EPA should have to regulate carbon emissions and what it should be allowed to do to accomplish that job. That question was occcasioned by a 2015 EPA rule called the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan targeted greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, requiring each state to make a plan to cut emissions and submit it to the federal government.

Several states and private groups immediately challenged the Clean Power Plan when it was released, calling it an overreach on the part of the agency, and the Supreme Court put it on hold in 2016. After a repeal of the plan during Donald Trump’s presidency and some legal back-and-forth, a Washington, DC, district court ruled in January 2021 that the Clean Power Plan did fall within the EPA’s authority.

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How to track your period safely post-Roe



How to track your period safely post-Roe

3. After you delete your app, ask the app provider to delete your data. Just because you removed the app from your phone does not mean the company has gotten rid of your records. In fact, California is the only state where they are legally required to delete your data. Still, many companies are willing to delete it upon request. Here’s a helpful guide from the Washington Post that walks you through how you can do this.

Here’s how to safely track your period without an app.

1. Use a spreadsheet. It’s relatively easy to re-create the functions of a period tracker in a spreadsheet by listing out the dates of your past periods and figuring out the average length of time from the first day of one to the first day of the next. You can turn to one of the many templates already available online, like the period tracker created by Aufrichtig and the Menstrual Cycle Calendar and Period Tracker created by Laura Cutler. If you enjoy the science-y aspect of period apps, templates offer the ability to send yourself reminders about upcoming periods, record symptoms, and track blood flow.

2. Use a digital calendar. If spreadsheets make you dizzy and your entire life is on a digital calendar already, try making your period a recurring event, suggests Emory University student Alexa Mohsenzadeh, who made a TikTok video demonstrating the process

Mohsenzadeh says that she doesn’t miss apps. “I can tailor this to my needs and add notes about how I’m feeling and see if it’s correlated to my period,” she says. “You just have to input it once.” 

3. Go analog and use a notebook or paper planner. We’re a technology publication, but the fact is that the safest way to keep your menstrual data from being accessible to others is to take it offline. You can invest in a paper planner or just use a notebook to keep track of your period and how you’re feeling. 

If that sounds like too much work, and you’re looking for a simple, no-nonsense template, try the free, printable Menstrual Cycle Diary available from the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Menstrual Cycle and Ovulation Research.

4. If your state is unlikely to ban abortion, you might still be able to safely use a period-tracking app. The crucial thing will be to choose one that has clear privacy settings and has publicly promised not to share user data with authorities. Quintin says Clue is a good option because it’s beholden to EU privacy laws and has gone on the record with its promise not to share information with authorities. 

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