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Earth Politics

Doomsday Clock Remains at Five Minutes to Midnight 222

Posted by Unknown Lamer
from the hands-that-threaten-doom dept.
Lasrick writes "The Doomsday Clock remains at 5 minutes to midnight. In a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and members of the UN Security Council, the Bulletin announced its decision and how it was made. The decision to move (or to leave in place) the minute hand of the Doomsday Clock is made every year by the Bulletin's Science and Security Board in consultation with its Board of Sponsors, which includes 18 Nobel laureates. The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change, and new technologies emerging in other domains." Reasons for the clock remaining at five minutes include the U.S. and Russian not doing much for disarmament increasing nuclear weapon stockpiles in India and China, stalled efforts to reduce carbon emissions globally, and "killer robots."
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Doomsday Clock Remains at Five Minutes to Midnight

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  • DOOOOOOOMED (Score:5, Insightful)

    by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:10PM (#45966573) Homepage Journal

    Seriously, this particular instrument has always been a "be afraid, due to mangled metaphor" instrument for PR, and never really meant anything meaningful and measurable.

    I mean, we do lack an objective instrument for how screwed we are as a species, but "any minute now" is just a terribly uninformative model.

    • by Kenja (541830) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:15PM (#45966667)
      Yup. It's like a less useful Homeland Security threat level color.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by CanHasDIY (1672858)

      I mean, we do lack an objective instrument for how screwed we are as a species, but "any minute now" is just a terribly uninformative model.

      Especially when we've been "minutes from DOOM" for 60-some-odd years already.

      • Re:DOOOOOOOMED (Score:4, Insightful)

        by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:36PM (#45966949) Homepage Journal

        I mean, a PR stunt that says "don't start a nuclear war, ya doffers" wasn't necessarily a bad idea back then, but its continuation as an "institution" really just ruins its credibility.

        • by CanHasDIY (1672858) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:49PM (#45967123) Homepage Journal

          Yup.

          At this point, it's no longer "The Boy Who Cried Wolf," and more "That geriatric motherfucker that won't stop calling about those kids on his lawn."

        • Yeah, my first thought was "And, in other news, not one fuck was given."
          • Well, I'm a little concerned that I used the word "doffers" without actually knowing what it means, and that's tangentially related!

        • Re:DOOOOOOOMED (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Tailhook (98486) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @02:05PM (#45967383)

          The doomsday clock accumulates the new fears of western elites like some sort of alarmist meme flypaper.

          In truth, the doomsday clock represents exactly that set of things you should not worry about. The thing that will actually blow up our world will be deliberately excluded from the list because that thing will enjoy the highest degree of political immunization. Right up until it all goes pear shaped.

          • No, that's completely unreasonable. I'm not unconcerned with climate change. It's a serious problem from any sort of critical analysis. It just doesn't map to "anything could happen and we all die" in the slightest.

      • Seriously? Our idea of keeping the peace is mutually assured destruction, therefore we will be minutes away until that changes.

    • Nothing offends political alarmists more than good news. In this case, the systematic "burning" of Cold War nuclear weapons as commercial fuel to light the very cities they once threatened. So the Doomsday Clock alarmists are moving the goalposts once again. Apparently the doomsday being measured now includes manmade climate change.
      • Re:DOOOOOOOMED (Score:5, Insightful)

        by i kan reed (749298) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:57PM (#45967255) Homepage Journal

        Yeah, it's kinda silly to compare an environmental disaster that will moderately drop the potential carrying capacity of the planet to nuclear annihilation, as even being the same order of magnitude of danger. It makes climate change harder to take seriously, which is bad, because it's important(just not anywhere near as important as not starting a nuclear war).

        • by jandrese (485)
          In the long run Climate Change could be that bad, but unlike Nuclear Weapons you aren't going to wake up tomorrow to discover that Kansas has turned to dust. The whole concept of a Doomsday clock doesn't really make sense when you're talking about a slow process.
      • Re:DOOOOOOOMED (Score:5, Insightful)

        by lennier (44736) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @05:38PM (#45969715) Homepage

        the systematic "burning" of Cold War nuclear weapons as commercial fuel to light the very cities they once threatened.

        Admittedly WWIII would also have lit the cities extremely well... for a couple of microseconds.

        I think the generation who grew up after the 1980s don't really grasp just how intensely we 80s kids felt the shadow of nuclear war. You can't really understand 80s culture without that; it seeps into almost every part of art and culture from 1980-1989, especially New Wave music. Climate change and the War on Terror combined? They don't even begin to approach a fraction of the existential certainty of absolute destruction we felt. (Though we had both back then too; watch 1973's "Soylent Green" and you'll see global warming as part of the backdrop). And the relief at WWIII being postponed when the Wall fell... quickly turning to disgust as capitalism ate everything...

        "I wanted to run through the street yelling, to grab them all and say: 'Every day from this day on is a gift. Use it well!' Instead, I got drunk." [youtube.com]

        That right there is everything you need to know about Generation X and why we feel so burned out on life. But, hey, alive after twenty, and not expecting to be, and every day we don't have a nuclear apocalypse is a good day. And every nuclear warhead destroyed and turned into toxic but not explosive nuclear fuel is a win.

        But the nukes are still there, and the missiles are being repurposed as 'conventional' warheads [moderntokyotimes.com], and that's sure going to end well for all concerned. Before, identifying nuclear attack was easy: an unscheduled ICBM launch means you push the button. Under Prompt Global Strike, how do you tell if an incoming ICBM signature is a nuke warhead or a conventional warhead? You don't. You guess. That's.... nice.

        So, the Doomsday clock is still relevant and I for one am glad it's there. To remind us all of what once was, the shadow we lived under, and the shadow that still hasn't completely gone away.

        • by riverat1 (1048260)

          I think the generation who grew up after the 1980s don't really grasp just how intensely we 80s kids felt the shadow of nuclear war.

          You think you kids in the 80's had it bad, what about us from the 1950's and 60's? Duck and cover [wikipedia.org] drills in grade school and the tension of the Cuban missile crisis. [wikipedia.org] I was worried that I would never get old enough to lose my virginity.

          Now get off my lawn!

    • we do lack an objective instrument for how screwed we are as a species, but "any minute now" is just a terribly uninformative model.

      Relative to the timescale of the human species, I'd say "any minute now" is pretty accurate. We've been around for over 200,000 years - but in the space of about one hundred years, we've irreversibly altered the planet and created the tools with which to destroy it completely, and I'm not just talking about the nukes.

      I'd give us about 100 years tops before we're at post-apocal

    • We are doomed, I say, doomed as doomed can be! (y' know)
    • by mcrbids (148650)

      I would love to see you propose something better and implement it. The truth is that we live in a world that was quite literally saved by a single guy who refused to follow orders. [bbc.co.uk]

      But it's not like he was the only one. There was this guy [wikipedia.org] and also (arguably) this guy [newrepublic.com].

      To realize just how close we really came, this movie is an eye opener. [imdb.com]

  • wait wait wait.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:11PM (#45966589) Journal

    Ok, I understand nuclear weapons stockpiles, and natural catastrophes... but "killer robots"? Isn't the doomsday clock supposed to indicate how close we are to global disaster? How does "killer robots" enter in exactly? I mean in the real world, not in the Terminator universe.

    • by sg_oneill (159032)

      I think thats a reference to Drones?

      Not entirely sure how thats an existential threat to humanity, unless AI research has gotten a lot darker since I last looked at it?

      • Not entirely sure how thats an existential threat to humanity

        The threat doesn't have to be existential. Nukes are our own doing, for example.

        • That's not the correct parsing of "existential threat", which means a "a threat to continued existence as a species" not "a threat related to to the philosophy of existentialism"

      • by MachineShedFred (621896) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @02:50PM (#45967999) Journal

        Because, to some people, the method of someone being killed is more important than the fact they were killed to begin with. See: Syria's chemical weapon attacks last year.

        One hundred thousand people dead from bullets and explosives, Obama, the US Department of State, the collective foreign policies of Europe, and anyone else that isn't directly sharing a border with Syria could give a fuck. One hundred people dead from Sarin, OH BOY LET'S INVADE! LET'S SANCTION! BOMB THE FUCK OUT OF DAMASCUS!!

        Dead is dead. Outside of the moment someone dies, the method hardly matters.

        • Lingering painful death is frowned upon more frownfully than quick death. Even a beheading where the victim likely dies after less than 20 seconds of hacking is frowned upon than the same situation with a pistol shot.
          Killer robots are frowned upon because a remote operator can kill without being endangered, making it clean and easy, instead of the usual mess.
          Method of death does not seem to be a factor.

    • They changed how the setting of the Clock is chosen a few years back... now it includes anything those making the decision believe to represent a "global threat".

      The Clock has always been more political than anything else (the Bulletin being mostly an advocate for arms control and elimination), the change just made that more open.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        They changed how the setting of the Clock is chosen a few years back... now it includes anything those making the decision believe to represent a "global threat".

        The Clock has always been more political than anything else (the Bulletin being mostly an advocate for arms control and elimination), the change just made that more open.

        Ok, thanks. So it's just political now. Nothing to see here, then.

    • by Prune (557140)

      This was covered on Slashdot less than a week ago, link inlcuded: http://bos.sagepub.com/content/70/1/32.full [sagepub.com]

      The article discusses at length the detailed concerns, but just to demonstrate that this is taken seriously far beyond the doomsday clock group, I quote here an excerpt related to that specific point:

      Challenging the assumption of the inevitability of autonomous weapons and building on the work of earlier activists, the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots, a coalition of nongovernmental organizations, was

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        I didn't say that killer robots weren't a concern. They most definitely are, on many levels; in capabilities, things that could go wrong, and the whole philosophy of autonomous lethal weapons. What I'm pointing out is that the doomsday clock was supposed to cover, you know, Doomsday: The extinction of humanity. If that is not what the doomsday clock is for anymore, someone should change the wiki. And we probably need a different indicator, that indicates, you know, actual doomsday, because that would b

        • by Prune (557140)
          In the long run, it may actually bring on an extinction event, so I see no reason for it to be excluded. It's probably more likely than wide-scale nuclear war over the coming decades, and in the worst case, potentially more thorough than it as well (after all, even in the case of global nuclear winter, there would still be survivors).
          • by roc97007 (608802)

            In the long run, a single small arms round [wikipedia.org] has the potential to bring on an extinction event.

            I'm not saying that small things can't have large consequences. I'm saying that's not a good use for something called The Doomsday Clock.

    • If you had watched the documentary correctly, the killer robots are only temporarily delayed by the particle accelerator.
      Since they are currently upgrading the LHC, the robots are free to kill us all.

      Once the LHC is at full power, we'll be protected again.

      • by roc97007 (608802)

        If you had watched the documentary correctly, the killer robots are only temporarily delayed by the particle accelerator.
        Since they are currently upgrading the LHC, the robots are free to kill us all.

        Once the LHC is at full power, we'll be protected again.

        I.... completely missed..... that documentary. I'll have to see if Netflix has it...

    • It depends how you define "killer robot" if you are thinking cylons then no but if you are thinking about something like UAVs loaded with weapons and ready for war with operators sitting comfortably miles away from any danger then yes killer robot.

      • by roc97007 (608802) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @03:08PM (#45968215) Journal

        It depends how you define "killer robot" if you are thinking cylons then no but if you are thinking about something like UAVs loaded with weapons and ready for war with operators sitting comfortably miles away from any danger then yes killer robot.

        I'm not saying killer robots don't exist and aren't a concern. Even worse than your scenario, killer drones are on their way to being autonomous -- no operators at all. So yeah, that's a big concern. But until they become Von Neumann machines [wikipedia.org], they're not in and of themselves a probable direct cause of an extinction event.

        But I'm trying to be fair. Someone please explain to me how killer robots represent a potential extinction event. And not by causing a war. Wars have been caused by more trivial things. "Their king insulted our king" or a single assassination.

        In other words, does the doomsday clock actually represent significant threats to extinction events anymore, or just things that a group of scientists don't like? If the latter, it can safely be ignored.

    • by roc97007 (608802)

      This is the problem when a concept is misused for political purposes -- look at the replies -- the doomsday clock is already considered a joke. And this is not a good thing.

  • Who cares? (Score:4, Funny)

    by Russ1642 (1087959) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:11PM (#45966603)

    Does anybody really care about this stupid metaphor and the idiots in charge of setting the time? It's so ridiculous that when I saw it in a movie I laughed, and then later found out it was real and laughed much harder.

    • Yes, some people care, because they lack any other critical tools to understand nuclear geopolitics. A deficit I have to acknowledge a degree of myself(but I'm cognizant of objective measures enough to know that "5 minutes" means absolutely nothing in context).

      • It was the nuclear clock. Now it is the doomsday clock with mission creep.

        As usual, they leave out the feature with far and away the greatest effect on quality and length of life: type of government.

        But that gets into politics, and we only accept pre-approved political stances like *reducing* carbon thru forced measures is the solution, or, ummmmmmmm, killer robots.

        • Forgive my rudeness, but that appears to be a bit of a non-sequitur.

          • Re:Who cares? (Score:5, Informative)

            by 0123456 (636235) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @02:34PM (#45967809)

            Forgive my rudeness, but that appears to be a bit of a non-sequitur.

            Not to me. The 'Doomsday Clock' was invented as a means to push for nuclear disarmament; arguably a good idea, but unarguably a political agenda.

            Now we've eliminated the majority of nuclear weapons, it's become irrelevant, but, like all such things, they're unable to say 'job done, let's go home', and have to find a new mission. Hence it's now become about pushing 'carbon emission reduction' and eliminating drones.

            Which is why most of us just laugh at it.

  • Inspiration (Score:5, Funny)

    by egcagrac0 (1410377) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:15PM (#45966657)

    The doomsday clock is what inspires people to keep proclaiming this to be the year of Linux on the desktop.

    • by rvw (755107)

      The doomsday clock is what inspires people to keep proclaiming this to be the year of Linux on the desktop.

      As long as the clock runs on Linux... Think of what could happen if this was powered by Windows. Clippy...

  • Location? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Rik Sweeney (471717) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:15PM (#45966669) Homepage

    Where is this Doomsday clock? It certainly can't be Europe or America, because otherwise it'd be at 5 minutes to 11 due to daylight savings.

  • As clearly this is for those causing it to exist at all.... You know those who like living on the edge...

  • by SuperKendall (25149) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:18PM (#45966701)

    The real reason the clock remains so close, is the very real possibility of the singularity caused by the Grey Google.

    When the Google consumes every last company on earth, what else can they acquire but your matter?

    • by Prune (557140)
      > Grey Google

      Took me a moment to see your link it to the nanotech "grey goo" disaster scenario. Given Google's ventures in various new areas, such as their recent involvement in robotics, I wouldn't be surprised if that comes from there too, eventually.
  • A stopped clock is right twice a day. The doomsday clock, it turns out, has never been right.

    But maybe this time is different.

  • ... than to constantly use fear of imminent danger to try to scare them into action, and then have nothing happen.

    It's classic 'boy who cried wolf'. I don't know what the right way is, but I can't see any evidence that the Doomsday Clock is having any effect (...is there any?)

    • by 0123456 (636235)

      Never attribute to conspiracy what can be adequately explained by a bunch of hippies desperate for attention.

  • The clock inspired an Iron Maiden [youtube.com] classic 80s nuke rock piece. When MTV played videos, nuclear war and/or post nuclear settings were a recurring theme since the cold war was still on and intensified during the Reagan administration. I should make a list of these videos if somebody hasn't already.

  • From TFA:

    Technological changes are outpacing humanity’s ability to manage them in ways that ensure our safety and security.

    Combine that with automated killing of automatons. I challenge you not to shiver.

  • 5 minutes to midnight lasted for hours on Polar Express [imdb.com], so I'm not too worried.
  • Does anybody else think it's funny that we're reading an article about an anachronistic clock?

  • by BringsApples (3418089) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @01:58PM (#45967261)
    From wikipedia:
    Reflecting international events dangerous to humankind, the Clock's hands have been adjusted twenty times since its inception in 1947, when the Clock was initially set to seven minutes to midnight.

    They give a good graph here [wikipedia.org].
  • .. because 5 minutes is not long enough at all to hook up with the hottie down the hall and be all "GAAAA!!! We're all going to die!!! Quick! .. now! In the supply closet!!" So we really need at least 20 minutes on the clock at a minimum. I'm going to write my congressman.
  • by wcrowe (94389) on Wednesday January 15, 2014 @02:51PM (#45968013)

    People have felt like the proverbial doomsday clock is at five minutes before midnight for most of recorded history. I bet, someday, they'll discover a "doomsday" gene that causes our species to always feel this way. Probably a holdover from our primordial ancestors who were always five minutes away from being some other animal's next meal. Except now we have big brains and can speculate and imagine the future, and the future always looks bleak to us -- possibly because we know we will not be a part of it.

  • by argStyopa (232550)

    A little edit due to a typo in the summary: "The Clock has become a universally recognized indicator of the world's vulnerability to fearmongering, and our desperate need for people to tell us how we're 'utterly certainly doomed...any minute now' by anyone wanting our attention."

  • What?? Only 5 minutes to midnight?

    Damnit, I've been scared way back when from a teenager from the cold war and MAD [wikipedia.org] and all. And now it's terrorists and the economy and the government and global warming and nanobots and job migration and what-all?

    You've got to be kidding me. No, that's not right -- you ARE kidding me. Crank that thing up to exactly midnight already and let's get this global party started! Otherwise SHUT THE HELL UP -- things aren't always as bad as they seem. (...or as good as the

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