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Welcome to the high-tech World Cup

Video-assistance may well define the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but the technology shaping this year’s football showpiece runs much deeper, for good and bad, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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One statistic from the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia offers the best advertisement yet for the use of technology in sport.

According to Pierluigi Collina, head of FIFA’s referee committee, the accuracy of refereeing decisions at the World Cup had been raised from 95% to 99.3% through the use of Video Assistant Referees (VARs). While the VARs are still human beings monitoring the games on TV screens and communicating with refs, their reliance on the screen has redefined the role of technology in football.

Under the previous FIFA regime, when disgraced former president Sepp Blatter ruled the roost, technology was regarded by football authorities in much the way dinosaurs would have viewed asteroids: a threat to their very existence. In a post-corruption FIFA, however, good governance has now extended onto the football field.

According to Collina, 335 refereeing decisions were checked in the 48 group stage matches, with 17 VAR reviews. This still didn’t help the ref award a penalty for  Serbia against Switzerland for a blatant foul, but that remains a rare exception.

Meanwhile, off the field, technology has contributed in numerous ways to enhancing the World Cup experience this year.

In seven of 11 tournament cities in stadiums, in fan zones, transportation hubs, and tourist landmarks like Red Square and Gorky Park, fans are enjoying some of the highest data speeds yet experienced in Russia. Thanks to a partnership between global network infrastructure provider Ericsson and Russian service provider MTS, Russia is seeing Europe’s largest deployment of Massive MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), a mobile broadband technology that uses multiple transmitters to transfer more data.

Just as VAR showcases video technology for refereeing decisions, Massive MIMO showcases the experience we can expect from 5G when this next generation mobile data technology is rolled out in the coming years.

“Through the intelligent reuse of system resources, Massive MIMO improves capacity by transmitting data to multiple user devices using the same time and frequency resources with coordinated beam forming and beam steering,” said Ericsson in a statement last month. “Massive MIMO is making it easier for operators to evolve their networks for a 5G future.”

The downside of technology at the World Cup is the greatest vulnerability yet from hackers and cyber criminals, intent on exploiting the 1,5-million tourists – not to mention the teams – in Russia for the event.

The English Football Association (FA) is believed to have briefd its players,  before their departure for Russia, on the importance of securing their devices. The FA even sought advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) on how players can avoid being hacked.

Football Federation Australia (FFA) used its own mobile internet connection while its players were in Russia, with staff and players warned to clear devices of any data and information they didn’t want exposed in public. They were also warned never to use public or hotel Wi-Fi .The Croatian and French World Cup teams received similar warnings.

“The apprehension from those football teams competing at Russia 2018 is nothing new, with several previous global sporting events having suffered from cyberattacks and other cyber-related issues,” says Carey van  Vlaanderen, CEO at cyber security provider ESET Southern Africa. 

“In the build-up to the FIFA 2014 World Cup and the 2016 Summer Olympics, both held in Brazil, threats detected included phishing attempts, hacktivism and mobile malware. UEFA’s Euro 2016 was also a target for fraudsters looking to dupe fans into buying tickets on newly-created fake websites.”

Kaspersky Lab, a Russian headquartered global cyber security provider, says 7 176 of approximately 32 000 public Wi-Fi networks in FIFA World Cup 2018 host cities do not use traffic encryption. 

Kaspersky Lab’s findings are based on an analysis of public Wi-Fi spots in 11 FIFA World Cup 2018 host cities, including Saransk, Samara, Nizhny Novgorod, Kazan, Volgograd, Moscow, Ekaterinburg, Sochi, Rostov, Kaliningrad, and Saint Petersburg. 

“The results show that so far not all wireless access points have encryption and authentication algorithms – aspects that are essential for Wi-Fi networks to remain secure,” Kaspersky announced in June. “This means that hackers only need to be located near an access point to intercept network traffic and get confidential information from unwitting or unprepared users.”

This hasn’t stopped fans from flocking to technology options for following the World Cup. The Opera News app, geared to regions where data is expensive and often not very fast, reached 10 million downloads in Africa in the six months after its launch in January 2018. The downloads spiked after an update that included a World Cup channel and other football-related features. 

According to app analytics service AppAnnie, Opera News was the most downloaded news app in Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania in June this year. 

“Africa is crazy about football and so are we,” said Jørgen Arnesen, Global Head of Marketing and Distribution at Opera. “That’s why it’s a pleasure to update Opera News with features designed for football World Cup fans.

“Opera News users will always get fresh and new content related to the World Cup thanks to our AI technology which gathers top articles for them,” said Arnesen. “The app becomes more and more personal and makes it easier for users to find all the information they need.”

According to digital audience measurement organisation GlobalWebIndex, online TV viewing now accounts for 38% of global World Cup Fans’ total daily TV viewing time. While the majority of fans will still be tuning in via their TV sets, more are turning to online streams than ever before in sports history.

To read how to stay safe while watching the World Cup check out Arthur’s safety tips on the next page.

World Cup safety tips:

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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CES: Most useless gadgets

The worst gadgets of CES also deserve their moment of infamy, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.

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It’s fairly easy to choose the best new gadgets launched at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas last week. Most lists – and there are many – highlight the LG roll-up TV, the Samsung modular TV, the Royole foldable phone, the impossible burger, and the walking car.

But what about the voice assisted bed, the smart baby dining table, the self-driving suitcase and the robot that does nothing? In their current renditions, they sum up what is not only bad about technology, but how technology for its own sake quickly leads us down the rabbit hole of waste and futility.

The following pick of the worst of CES may well be a thinly veneered attempt at mockery, but it is also intended as a caution against getting caught up in hype and justification of pointless technology.

1. DUX voice-assisted bed

The single most useless product launched at CES this year must surely be a bed with Alexa voice control built in. No, not to control the bed itself, but to manage the smart home features with which Alexa and other smart speakers are associated. Or that any smartphone with Siri or Google Assistant could handle. Swedish luxury bedmaker DUX thinks it’s a good idea to manage smart lights, TV, security and air conditioning through the bed itself. Just don’t say Alexa’s “wake word” in your sleep.

2. Smart Baby Dining Table 

Ironically, the runner-up comes from a brand that also makes smart beds: China’s 37 Degree Smart Home. Self-described as “the world’s first smart furniture brand that is transforming technology into furniture”, it outdid itself with a Smart Baby Dining Table. This isa baby feeding table with a removable dining chair that contains a weight detector and adjustable camera, to make children’s weight and temperature visible to parents via the brand’s app. Score one for hands-off parenting.

Click here to read about smart diapers, self-driving suitcases, laundry folders, and bad robot companions.

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CES: Language tech means no more “lost in translation”

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Talking to strangers in foreign countries just got a lot easier with recent advancements in translation technology. Last week, major companies and small startups alike showed the CES technology expo in Las Vegas how well their translation worked at live translation.

Most existing translation apps, like Bixby and Siri Translate, are still in their infancy with live speech translation, which brings about the need for dedicated solutions like these technologies:

Babel’s AIcorrect pocket translator

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The AIcorrect Translator, developed by Beijing-based Babel Technology, attracted attention as the linguistic king of the show. As an advanced application of AI technology in consumer technology, the pocket translator deals with problems in cross-linguistic communication. 

It supports real-time mutual translation in multiple situations between Chinese/English and 30 other languages, including Japanese, Korean, Thai, French, Russian and Spanish. A significant differentiator is that major languages like English being further divided into accents. The translation quality reaches as high as 96%.

It has a touch screen, where transcription and audio translation are shown at the same time. Lei Guan, CEO of Babel Technology, said: “As a Chinese pathfinder in the field of AI, we designed the device in hoping that hundreds of millions of people can have access to it and carry out cross-linguistic communication all barrier-free.” 

Click here to read about the Pilot, Travis, Pocketalk, Google and Zoi translators.

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