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September 25, 2020

Wrap up: the latest in technology...

By SHIVNI PATEL | January 30, 2020

Saudi regime suspected in Jeff Bezos’ phone hack

Even the cellphone of the world’s richest man is not entirely secure from hacks. According to The Guardian on Jan. 22, it is “highly probable” that Saudi Arabia was behind the hacking of Jeff Bezos’ phone in May 2018. A video message on WhatsApp was reportedly sent by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. As Bezos opened the video message sent through WhatsApp, a copious amount of data was extracted from Bezos’ phone in a matter of hours. 

The crown prince and the rest of the Saudi government have also been tied to the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the Saudi regime and journalist at The Washington Post, a newspaper owned by Jeff Bezos. Promptly after The Guardian’s report, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon asked for additional information on the hack. Though most fingers are pointing to the Saudi regime for the attack, cyber experts have yet to arrive at confirmation of the perpetrators’ identities.

Google publishes largest ever map of neural connections

Scientists at the Janelia Research Campus in Virginia and Google recently published the largest ever comprehensive map of neural connections in the brain of an animal. The “hemibrain connectome” is a 3D model that covers a large portion of the fruit fly brain and uses advanced imaging techniques to show the paths of the circuits controlling learning, navigation, memory, smell and other key fruit fly behaviors. The project, which took 12 years and over $40 million, has some scientists questioning whether resources could have been allocated elsewhere. 

In an interview with The Verge, neuroscientist Mark Humphries of the University of Nottingham argued that though it is a technical marvel, the reconstruction itself does not directly answer any questions in neuroscience, such as how physical pathways in the brain result in behaviors. Advocates of the project believe that in time, the efforts of the project will result in great leaps forward for the field of neuroscience. In an interview with WIRED Magazine, Gerry Rubin, the leader of the study, noted that the successful creation of the “hemibrain connectome” brings scientists closer to producing a physical blueprint of the entire fly brain. His team hopes to eventually map the entire brain of a mouse, a project which will cost around $500 million dollars. Given enough time, Rubin believes the goal is feasible.

Humanoid robots in space

On Jan. 22, India’s first half-humanoid robot debuted at an Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) event in Bengaluru, India. The robot, named Vyommitra, was designed by the ISRO and can speak two languages and perform tasks like an astronaut. As a half-humanoid robot, Vyommitra has a human face and upper body build, but her lack of legs restricts her to forward and sideways movements. In addition to conducting switch panel operations and conversing with the astronauts, Vyommitra can identify uncomfortable environmental changes in the cabin and change air conditions to make them more suitable for the crew.

Vyommitra is part of India’s Chandrayaan-3 mission, which aims to successfully land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The ISRO plans to send Vyommitra on the unmanned Gaganyaan spacecraft before sending India’s first astronauts to the moon in December 2021. If India is successful with this mission, it will be the fourth country to land on the moon after Russia, the United States and China.

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