February Roundup (Maths, Tech, Computing)

Hi everyone, I’m back with a couple of short summaries on topics that I’ve found significant and/or important in February. As before, links to articles that I used on each of the topics will be included at the bottom of the article in case you want to read more into the subjects.

Telugu Symbol Crashes iOS
A new bug, discovered earlier this month by Italian blog Mobile World, caused Apple devices and popular messaging apps including WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger to crash. Devices particularly affected were iPhones running the iOS 11, however, desktops running macOS, Apple Watches and Apple TVs were also affected. The Unicode-based bug involves a South Indian (Telugu) character that crashes your device or the application containing the message regardless of whether you have typed the symbol yourself or have been sent it in a message. In fact, as I discovered myself, the notification snippet that appeared at the top of my phone screen containing the character (sent by fellow author Joon-Ho Son), caused the springboard* to attempt to reboot itself falling into a boot loop**. This lead to me being unable to unlock my phone until I deleted the message containing the character through a desktop computer.
This bug is similar to previous bugs that have plagued Apple, involving sending a specific character, message, link or video to an iOS device, causing the phone or particular application to crash. In January this year, Abraham Masri discovered a link that could freeze your phone, even without you clicking on it. In May 2015 the “effective. Power” bug (also known as Unicode of Death) caused the Messages app to continuously crash when the text “Power لُلُصّبُلُلصّبُررً ॣ ॣh ॣ ॣ 冗” was received and if the text was received while the phone was on the lock screen, it could cause the iPhone to reboot.
Some methods to fix the problem, which have been suggested by the various articles that I have come across include logging on to your account via desktop computer and deleting the message containing the character, resetting your phone from DFU (Device Firmware Update) mode and deleting and reinstalling the problematic app. Thankfully, Apple has now released a patch update for all of the devices affected. However, as this is one of many times that Apple has been affected by such an issue, it is likely that a similar bug will be discovered in the future. It should be noted that Apple claims that it will focus more on reliability, performance and fixing the bugs in iOS 11 for iOS 12 rather than on introducing new features.

*the springboard is the system software that manages the iOS homescreen, dealing with launching applications
**a boot loop is when a device cannot complete its boot sequence and attempts to reboot itself, but is unable to do so completely and so gets stuck in a loop of reboot attempts, essentially making the device useless.

Deepfake Porn
Deepfake porn, which uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to replace the pornographic clip’s original actors’ face with the face of other people, in particular celebrities, have become more and more popular online on sites like Reddit, Twitter and Pornhub. In the past, the skill, time and expense required to doctor videos in such a way has meant that this sort of sophisticated face swapping was really only seen in big-budget films. When Motherboard first reported on the subject back in December 2017, it predicted that it would take a year or so for the process to become automated. FakeApp, software that makes it relatively easy for anyone who so desired to create such clips, was launched in January this year, only a month after Motherboard’s article.
The basis behind the technology involves feeding the software a high number of photographs of the subject’s face, preferably taken from different angles and with a variety of expressions, and a video clip to merge the results with. The algorithm is then trained on the video and pictures until it can convincingly reproduce a doctored video. The first viral deepfake clip, featuring the Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, was created based on multiple open-source libraries such as Keras with TensorFlow backend.
Pornhub, Discord and Gyfcat began actively removing deepfake pornographic content, ,with Reddit following closely, earlier this month. Pornhub Vice-President Corey Price stated that content would be removed based on users actively flagging it whilst Reddit simply banned the r/deepfakes subreddit, which had almost 100,000 subscribers at that time, stating that it had violated their policy “against involuntary pornography”. However, the r/SFWdeepfakes, which is dedicated to non-pornographic use of the technology is still online and it is possible that some inappropriate content has slipped through.
Although the videos are considered non-consensual by most platforms, deepfake porn currently remains in a legal gray area. Apart from the obvious issues that that clips were using the faces of non-consenting individuals, deepfakes may cause an even larger issue for fake news. To quote the BBC: “Several videos have already been made involving President Trump’s face, and while they are obvious spoofs it’s easy to imagine the effect being produced for propaganda purposes”. There has also been concern that this technology would be used to create clips featuring the faces of underage children.

As a side note, I might do a longer more in depth article on this topic and the technology behind it because I came across a lot of very interesting articles when researching for this.

Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy Rocket
The world’s most powerful rocket, SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy was successfully launched into space on the 6th of February from Florida. Due to the historically high failure rate of maiden flights, SpaceX’s CEO, Elon Musk’s personal cherry red Tesla roadster and a space-suited mannequin strapped onto the driver’s seat were its dummy payload, despite the fact that SpaceX claims the Falcon Heavy launcher has been designed to be “the most powerful operational rocket in the world by a factor of two”.
SpaceX, who design, manufacture and launch advanced rockets and spacecraft, has now launched 47 of its Falcon 9 rockets, however, none of the previous missions have travelled into deep space as Falcon Heavy aims to do. There was a lot of apprehension leading up to the launch due to SpaceX’s record with safety and reliability. For example, in January this year, the satellite Zuma failed to reach orbit, whilst in 2016, a Falcon 9 exploded on the launch pad during preparations for a static fire test. Falcon 9s are two-stage rockets designed to transport satellites into orbit. They are the first orbital class rocket capable of reflight, with two of the three Falcon 9 engine cores used by Falcon Heavy having already been used on previous missions.
The Falcon Heavy has the ability to lift nearly 64 metric tons into orbit and stands at 70m tall and 12.2m wide. The second-stage Merlin engine can be restarted multiple times, allowing payloads to be placed into a variety of orbits. The Falcon Heavy also has an engine-out capability that means it can sustain more than one unplanned engine shutdown at any point in flight and still successfully complete its missions. According to the SpaceX website, the rocket ‘restores the possibility of flying missions with crew to the Moon or Mars’.
After its successful launch of Falcon Heavy, SpaceX will now focus on “BFR”, its next big space launch vehicle, which will be designed to use a single stage to make it all the way to orbit.


Telugu Symbol Crashes iOS

  1. The Verge (1)
  2. The Verge (2)
  3. Variety
  4. Business Insider
  5. Wikipedia
  6. Quora
  7. 9to5mac (1)
  8. 9to5mac (2)
  9. Forbes
  10. Gizmodo

Deepfake Porn

  1. News Week
  2. The Verge (1)
  3. The Verge (2)
  4. Mashable
  5. BBC (1)
  6. BBC (2)
  7. FakeApp
  8. Motherboard

Elon Musk’s Falcon Heavy Rocket

  1. BBC
  2. Tech Radar
  3. SpaceX
  4. Tech Crunch
  5. WATCH the Falcon Heavy Test Flight

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