CHICAGO — A group of scientists tasked with assessing how close the apocalypse moved the hands of the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight for the first time in two years because of increased worries over nuclear weapons.
The emblematic clock was moved from three minutes to midnight to 2.5 minutes to midnight, with midnight representing humanity’s end.
In 2015, the clock was moved from five minutes to midnight to three minutes to midnight and didn’t change last year.
In 1953, the clock was at two minutes to midnight after the first hydrogen bomb tests in the U.S. and then Soviet Union.
In a statement released earlier this week, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists said it was taking a number of recent developments into account.
“A rise in strident nationalism worldwide, President Donald Trump’s comments on nuclear arms and climate issues, a darkening global security landscape that is colored by increasingly sophisticated technology, and a growing disregard for scientific expertise,” were among them, it said.
A team of Nobel laureates at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists has been compiling research and analysis to set the Doomsday Clock since 1945.
The independent nonprofit group uses data to assess global threats linked to treaty negotiations, geopolitical tensions and developments in the world of technology.
In 1963, scientists moved the clock back to 12 minutes from seven after U.S. and Soviet leaders signed the Partial Test Ban Treaty, ending all atmospheric nuclear testing.
The hand reverted to seven minutes from midnight in 1968 as France and China joined the nuclear arms race, and the U.S. became more involved in the Vietnam War.
However, the pressure eased — and the clock ticked back — with the signing of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty in 1970.
In subsequent years it has swung back and forth — landing at an alarming three minutes to midnight in 1984 when U.S.-Soviet relations reached a new low — before swinging back to 17 minutes from midnight in 1991 after the end of the Cold War.
Since then, it’s ticked ever closer to midnight.
While geopolitical factors feature heavily in this year’s evaluation, emerging risks posed by new technologies have also been flagged for the damage they might reap if they fall into the wrong hands.
These include the rise of artificial intelligence and security threats, including the potential misuse of biotechnology.
Developments in this industry — which enables humans to synthesize organisms from scratch — come with a risk that bio-terrorists will make weapons out of synthetic viruses.
This would widen an already diverse arsenal of weaponry that threatens to end the world.