How To Read the Doomsday Clock

20 January 2022

What does the Doomsday Clock actually mean?

SJ Beard wrote an article for BBC Future about how to read its time, and what we can learn from it.

"I first became aware of the Doomsday Clock at school in the mid-1990s when a teacher introduced it to me. She told my class about the grand sweep of history, explaining that if everything that had happened on our planet was compressed into a single year, then life would have emerged in early March, multi-cellular organisms in November, dinosaurs in late-December – and humans wouldn't arrive on the scene until 23:30 on New Year’s Eve. Then she contrasted this great swathe of history with how short our futures might be, and told us how a group of scientists in the US thought we may only have a few metaphorical minutes left until midnight. It never crossed my mind that someday I might be working on the same problem, as a researcher at the Centre of the Study of Existential Risk at the University of Cambridge.

It’s a powerful story, and for many years I thought this is what the Doomsday Clock meant: that its hands represented the time we have left before the end. However, that's not quite accurate."

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