Surprisingly, scientists decline to move the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight

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Last year, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, which sets the time each year, moved the clock forward to 90 seconds from midnight — AKA doom. That was the closest the clock has ever been set to annihilation, and it will stay there this year.

“Ninety seconds to midnight is profoundly unstable and must not engender complacency.”

“There are two key messages in our statement and they are one: that 90 seconds to midnight is profoundly unstable and must not engender complacency and two: the advancement of technology is quickening and outpacing our ability to govern them,” Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, said during a press event today.

Rest assured, the clock merely “visualizes humanity’s metaphorical proximity to global catastrophe,” according to the Bulletin. Artist Martyl Langsdorf designed the clock for the cover of the Bulletin magazine in 1947, setting it at seven minutes to midnight, because it “looked good to my eye.”

Now, the time is set by science and security experts who assess human-made threats including climate change, nuclear weapons, and “new disruptive technologies” like AI and biotechnology, the Bulletin says.

Their decision this year boils down to this, Bronson said during today’s event:

“The countries with nuclear weapons are engaged in modernization programs that threaten to create a new nuclear arms race. Earth experienced its hottest year on record and massive floods, fires and other climate related disasters have taken root and lack of action on climate change threatens billions of lives and livelihoods. Biological research aimed at preventing future pandemics has proven useful, but also presents the risk of causing one. And recent advances in artificial intelligence raise a variety of questions about how to control a technology that could improve or threaten civilization in countless ways.”

That said, the clock is really just meant to raise awareness on issues that its creators care about most. Next year, they could decide to slide the clock forward or backward depending on how much progress the Bulletin’s experts think we’ve made by then.

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John Doe

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