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It’s still really slight • The Register

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Bennu, already considered the second most dangerous asteroid in the Solar System, has a slightly increased chance of hitting Earth in the coming centuries, NASA said this week.

There is, according to the latest calculations, a 1-in-2,700 chance (0.037 per cent) that the half-kilometre-wide space rock will collide with Earth on September 24, 2182, and a 1-in-1,750 (0.057 per cent) chance of a strike by 2300 – a tiny bit higher than previous estimates.

The spinning top-shaped space rock is one of the two most hazardous known asteroids in the Solar System – hazardous to Earth, that is – with the other being 1950 DA, which has an estimated 0.3 per cent chance of hitting our planet on March 16, 2880. Astronomers are much more familiar with Bennu, however, thanks to NASA’s OSIRIS-REx mission during which a spacecraft orbited the asteroid for years.

The probe briefly touched down on the surface to obtain a sample of Bennu’s regolith. The craft is heading back to Earth, where it is expected to arrive on September 24, 2023. Data already collected by that mission was used to recalculate Bennu’s path and thus its chance of whacking into Earth.

“The OSIRIS-REx data give us so much more precise information, we can test the limits of our models and calculate the future trajectory of Bennu to a very high degree of certainty through 2135,” said Davide Farnocchia, of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies (CNEOS), which is run by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “We’ve never modeled an asteroid’s trajectory to this precision before.”

Farnocchia and his colleagues presented their results on Tuesday in the journal Icarus. The NASA man added that “the impact probability went up just a little bit, but it’s not a significant change.”

OSIRIS-REx has provided scientists with the most accurate data yet on Bennu’s size, shape, mass, spin, chemical composition, and orbital motion. There are multiple factors to consider when trying to map its path as it travels through the Solar System. The team had to model the gravitational interactions between the asteroid and the Sun, and other planets and their satellites, as well as more than 300 other space rocks, and pressure from the solar wind.

Although the researchers had a good idea of the asteroid’s path, it can be nudged by something called the Yarkovsky effect. As Bennu spins, the side of its body facing the Sun absorbs heat and rotates away. The heat is then radiated back into space as it cools down, releasing infrared energy that generates a small push on the asteroid. The effects are minuscule though can adjust Bennu’s motion over long-enough periods of time. Yarkovsky effect measurements from the OSIRIS-REx probe were thus used to fine-tune Bennu’s trajectory.

NASA has a good explanation of the Yarkovsky effect and its impact on Bennu traveling through gravitational keyholes in the video below.

Youtube Video

“The Yarkovsky effect will act on all asteroids of all sizes, and while it has been measured for a small fraction of the asteroid population from afar, OSIRIS-REx gave us the first opportunity to measure it in detail as Bennu traveled around the Sun,” explained Steve Chesley, co-author of the paper and a senior research scientist at JPL.

“The effect on Bennu is equivalent to the weight of three grapes constantly acting on the asteroid – tiny, yes, but significant when determining Bennu’s future impact chances over the decades and centuries to come.”

Also, NASA did not significantly alter Bennu’s motion when its probe ejected a puff of nitrogen gas to kick up dirt to collect and return to Earth.

“The force exerted on Bennu’s surface during the Touch-and-Go (TAG) event were tiny even in comparison to the effects of other small forces considered,” Rich Burns, the project manager of the OSIRIS-REx mission, who was not directly involved in the research, said. “TAG did not alter Bennu’s likelihood of impacting Earth.” ®

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NFT trader OpenSea bans insider trading after employee rakes in profit | Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)

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A non-fungible token (NFT) marketplace has introduced policies to ban insider trading, after an executive at the company was discovered to be buying artworks shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page.

OpenSea, one of the leading sites for trading the digital assets, will now prevent team members buying or selling from featured collections and from using confidential information to trade NFTs. Neither practice was previously banned.

“Yesterday we learned that one of our employees purchased items that they knew were set to display on our front page before they appeared there publicly,” said Devin Finzer, the co-founder and chief executive of the site.

“This is incredibly disappointing. We want to be clear that this behaviour does not represent our values as a team. We are taking this very seriously and are conducting an immediate and thorough third-party review of this incident so that we have a full understanding of the facts and additional steps we need to take.”

NFTs are digital assets whose ownership is recorded and traced using a bitcoin-style blockchain. The NFT market boomed earlier this year as celebrities including Grimes, Andy Murray and Sir Tim Berners-Lee sold collectibles and artworks using the format. But the underlying technology has questionable utility, with some dismissing the field as a purely speculative bubble.

The insider trading came to light thanks to the public nature of the Ethereum blockchain, on which most NFT trades occur. Crypto traders noticed that an anonymous user was regularly buying items from the public marketplace shortly before they were promoted on the site’s front page, a prestigious slot that often brings significant interest from would-be buyers. The anonymous user would then sell the assets on, making vast sums in a matter of hours.

One trade, for instance, saw an artwork called Spectrum of a Ramenification Theory bought for about £600. It was then advertised on the front page and sold on for $4,000 a few hours later.

One Twitter user, ZuwuTV, linked the transactions to the public wallet of Nate Chastain, OpenSea’s head of product, demonstrating, using public records, that the profits from the trades were sent back to a wallet owned by Chastain.

While some, including ZuwuTV, described the process as “insider trading”, the loosely regulated market for NFTs has few restrictions on what participants can do. Some critics argue that even that terminology demonstrates that the sector is more about speculation than creativity.

“The fact that people are responding to this as insider trading shows that this is securities trading (or just gambling), not something designed to support artists,” said Anil Dash, the chief executive of the software company Glitch. “There are no similar public statements when artists get ripped off on the platform.

“If Etsy employees bought featured products from creators on their platform (or Patreon or Kickstarter workers backed new creators etc) that’d be great! Nobody would balk. Because they’d be supporting their goal,” Dash added.



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British home computer trailblazer dies aged 81 • The Register

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Sir Clive Sinclair died on Thursday at home in London after a long illness, his family said today. He was 81.

The British entrepreneur is perhaps best known for launching the ZX range of 8-bit microcomputers, which helped bring computing, games, and programming into UK homes in the 1980s, at least. This included the ZX80, said to be the UK’s first mass-market home computer for under £100, the ZX81, and the trusty ZX Spectrum. A whole generation grew up in Britain mastering coding on these kinds of systems in their bedrooms.

And before all that, Sir Clive founded Sinclair Radionics, which produced amplifiers, calculators, and watches, and was a forerunner to his Spectrum-making Sinclair Research. The tech pioneer, who eventually sold his computing biz to Amstrad, was knighted during his computing heyday, in 1983.

“He was a rather amazing person,” his daughter, Belinda Sinclair, 57, told The Guardian this evening. “Of course, he was so clever and he was always interested in everything. My daughter and her husband are engineers so he’d be chatting engineering with them.”

Sir Clive is survived by Belinda, his sons, Crispin and Bartholomew, aged 55 and 52 respectively, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren. ®

A full obit will follow on The Register.

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UN human rights chief raises concerns over AI privacy violations in report

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‘AI tech can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights.’

The UN’s human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for a moratorium on the sale and use of artificial intelligence technology until safeguards are put in place to prevent potential human rights violations.

Bachelet made the appeal on Wednesday (15 September) to accompany a report released by the UN’s Human Rights Office, which analysed how AI systems affect people’s right to privacy. The violation of their privacy rights had knock-on impacts on other rights such as rights to health, education and freedom of movement, the report found.

“Artificial intelligence can be a force for good, helping societies overcome some of the great challenges of our times. But AI technologies can have negative, even catastrophic, effects if they are used without sufficient regard to how they affect people’s human rights,” Bachelet said.

“Artificial intelligence now reaches into almost every corner of our physical and mental lives and even emotional states,” Bachelet added.

Japanese multinational Fujitsu caused a stir when it announced plans to implement AI facial recognition technology to monitor employees’ concentration levels during meetings.

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The report was critical of justice systems which had made wrongful arrests because of flawed facial recognition tools. It appealed to countries to ban any AI tools which did not meet international human rights standards. A 2019 study from the UK found that 81pc of suspects flagged by the facial recognition technology used by London’s Metropolitan Police force were innocent.

Earlier this year, Canada banned Clearview’s AI facial recognition technology after the company violated Canadian privacy laws by collecting facial images of Canadians without their consent.

Bachelet also highlighted the report’s concerns on the future use of data once it has been collected and stored, calling it “one of the most urgent human rights questions we face.”

The UN’s report echoes previous appeals made by European data protection regulators.

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) and the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) called for a ban on facial recognition in public places in June. They urged EU lawmakers to consider banning the use of such technology in public spaces, after the European Commission released its proposed regulations on the matter.

The EU’s proposed regulations did not recommend an outright ban. The commission instead emphasised the importance of creating “trustworthy AI.”

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