#WhatTheTech 25

Written by:
Leah Johnston
Date Posted:
18 October 2019

We’ve handpicked some tech/security-related news stories from the past week, in case you missed them.

Research company, OpenAI, have built an AI-powered robot that can solve a Rubik’s cube with one hand. Dactyl, the humanoid robotic hand, was first developed last year as a stepping stone to building all-purpose robots. Using a computer simulation, OpenAI ran the 24-joint robotic hand through routines that would take a human 10,000 years to complete.

This is not the first robot to complete a Rubik’s cube, and taking around four minutes, it certainly isn’t the fastest. A machine developed by MIT engineers back in March 2018, solved the cube in just 0.38 seconds. However, the focus of this task was not speed, but the human-like ability of the mechanical hand. “Plenty of robots can solve Rubik’s cubes very fast. The important difference between what they did there and what we’re doing here is that those robots are very purpose-built,” said Peter Welinder, a research scientist and robotics lead at OpenAI.

“The ability to solve the Rubik’s cube in the real world, on a robot hand, is actually extremely difficult”, commented Matthias Plappert, team leader for robotics at OpenAI. We use our hands for more than just solving the occasional Rubik’s cube – cooking, cleaning, and getting dressed all rely on them. Perhaps we are moving towards a time of the robotic handyman, where complex real-world tasks will no longer be fully reliant on the human body.

Food writer left stewing as she loses her mint
Jack Monroe, best known for her low-cost recipes, says she has lost about £5,000 after her phone number was highjacked and re-activated on another Sim card. 

Simjacking is where a phone number is ported over to a new Sim card, which criminals can then pass off as their own. Once they gained access to the phone, the Simjackers were able to receive two-factor authentication (2FA) messages in order to obtain access to her bank accounts. 

It seems like a worryingly easy process – the criminals pose as a customer looking to change mobile providers but want to keep their existing phone number. Although operators often request personal information in order to complete the request, for those in the public eye, most of this information (such as date of birth) is readily available online. This means that the victim may not know about the breach until the switch is in progress and their phone stops working – by which point it could be too late.

The food writer suggested she was already paranoid about security and took great precaution. She tweeted, “The money stolen has run into thousands of pounds – I’m a self-employed freelancer and I have to absolutely hustle for every single pound I earn. And someone has just helped themselves to around five thousand of them” 

The case has sparked many privacy campaigners to call for an ICO review on mobile operators and their safeguarding services – about thyme!

On Safari in China
It has been reported that Apple’s Safari browser has been sending user data to Tencent, a Chinese tech giant. After examination of Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning disclaimer, users learned that iOS 13 sends data to Tencent Safe Browsing as well as Google Safe Browsing, in an attempt to help to protect users from phishing scams.  

Safari does let users know that their data is being sent to the company in their terms and conditions, stating that “Before visiting a website, Safari may send information calculated from the website address to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing to check if the website is fraudulent. These safe browsing providers may also log your IP address.”

This process is not unusual and acts as a safeguard for users to avoid malicious websites, but there is concern over the usage of the data when it reaches Tencent, as the company regularly works with the Chinese government. It is not yet known if Tencent collects any information on users outside of China. 

Of course, if you are concerned about your data being used by Apple or any third parties, you can disable the Fraudulent Website Warning feature. However, this leaves you in a bit of a catch 22 in choosing the lesser of two evils – do you carry the risk of fraudulent activity on your device, or the prospect of being surveilled by the Chinese government? 

Unmanned ship to sail across the Atlantic
Tech firm IBM is helping to build a fully autonomous ship to launch from Plymouth in September 2020. Named The Mayflower Autonomous (MAS), the drone ship will make the same 3000-mile voyage as its namesake, marking the 400th anniversary of the pilgrim ship that brought European settlers to America. Setting sail on the 6th September 1620, with 102 passengers and around 30 crew members on board, the original journey took more than two months.

Using AI designed by IBM, the unmanned ship will navigate across the Atlantic from Plymouth England to Plymouth Massachusetts, without any human intervention, and a much faster crossing time of just two weeks. The vessel will be self-sufficient in making decisions and avoiding obstacles along the way, with the ability to make satellite phone calls back to the base if necessary. Satellites, cameras, GPS, RADAR and LIDAR will all be used to guide the ship and its decision-making process. 

Running on wind and solar power, the ship aims to be a cost-effective oceanographic research tool. The project’s director, Brett Phaneuf, excitedly commented, “We know more about the surface of the moon than the surface of the ocean. This is the first of many ships that will bring us to that state of knowledge”

Bon Voyage, MAS!

We’ll be back next week with more tech news!

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