Every January for the past 75 years, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has published a new doomsday clock, indicating how close — or far — humanity is to the brink.
The next release will be revealed on January 24th at 10 AM EST. It’s the first update of the watch since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine renewed fears of a global nuclear war.
Historically, the clock has measured the risk of nuclear catastrophe, but that’s not the only apocalyptic scenario being considered. Climate change, bioterrorism, artificial intelligence, and the damage caused by misinformation and disinformation are also included in the mix of potential disasters.
Each year, the 22 members of the Security and Science Council are asked two questions:
- Is humanity safer or at greater risk this year than last year?
- Is humanity safer or is it at greater risk compared to the 76 years set on the clock?
Here’s what you should know about the 2023 doomsday clock:
How did the Doomsday Clock start?
In 1945, on the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project that built the world’s first atomic bombs began publishing a print newsletter called the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Two years later, as these same scientists contemplate a world in which two atomic weapons have been used in Japan, they meet to discuss the threat nuclear war poses to humanity.
“They were concerned that the public wasn’t really aware of how close we were to the end of life as we knew it,” said Rachel Bronson, president and CEO of the publication.
Martell Langsdorf, an artist and wife of Manhattan Project physicist Alexander Langsdorf Jr., came up with the idea of a clock that shows how close things are.
It is called the Doomsday Clock.
“It gave the sense that if we didn’t do something, it was going to be progressing toward midnight and we could be witnessing the end of the world,” Bronson said.
Where does the Doomsday clock stand now?
For the past two years, the Doomsday Clock has been 100 seconds to midnight, and is closer to destruction than at any time since its inception in 1947.
What does midnight represent on the Doomsday Clock?
The midnight on the Doomsday Clock represents how close humans are to bringing about catastrophe that will end civilization due to unleashing human-caused hazards either through nuclear disasters, climate change, or other cataclysms.
Who decides where to set the Doomsday Clock?
The Doomsday Clock is set each year by 22 members of Bulletin’s Science and Security Council in consultation with the Board of Sponsors, which includes 11 Nobel laureates.
Why is there a doomsday clock?
At its core, Bronson said, the Bulletin’s founders were asking how well humanity could manage “the dangerous Pandora’s box made possible by modern science.”
Although technology makes the amazing and wonderful things possible, it can also pose risks. In 1947 it was the largest such nuclear war. Since then, the bulletin has added other things, including climate change, bioterrorism, artificial intelligence, and the harm caused by misinformation and disinformation.
Why is the Doomsday Clock so prominent?
Over the years, the watch has been indicated by the White House, the Kremlin, and the leadership of many other countries. Robert Oppenheimer and Albert Einstein were among the list of sponsors for the Bulletin, and John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon wrote articles for the magazine.
While not everyone approves of the watch’s settings, it’s generally respected for the questions it raises and its science-based stance.
Does the Doomsday clock always run forward?
Clock setting has jumped back and forth over the past 75 years, depending on world events.
It was the furthest since midnight in 1991, when it was set at 17 minutes to midnight after the United States and Soviet Union signed the first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty, followed by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
“People went to bed every night worrying about whether they would wake up,” Daniel Halls, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago and co-chair of the Council on Science and Security, told the publication. This threat was certainly reduced at the end of the Cold War.
The most pessimistic years were 2021 and 2022, when it was set at 100 seconds to midnight, due in part to global nuclear and political tensions, COVID-19, climate change and the threat of biological weapons.
The first watch, announced in 1947, was set at 7 minutes to midnight.
What will the Doomsday Clock be set to on January 24, 2023?
The Doomsday Clock will reset on January 24 at 10am EST in an announcement that will be broadcast live on the bulletin’s website.
The exact time chosen by the scientists who make up the tablet is a secret. But here is one hint: for the first time, the statement is being translated into Russian and Ukrainian.