The Doomsday Clock just moved closer to midnight again. Tech is getting some of the blame.

Information warfare, deep fakes and AI are all adding to the risk of catastrophe, scientists warn.
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

The Doomsday Clock has moved closer to midnight than ever before, as scientists warn that the threats of nuclear war and catastrophic climate change are being compounded by digital information warfare, which is making it harder for democracies to respond to these dangers.

"Humanity continues to face two simultaneous existential dangers—nuclear war and climate change—that are compounded by a threat multiplier, cyber-enabled information warfare, that undercuts society's ability to respond," said the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists as it moved the Doomsday Clock from two minutes to midnight to 100 seconds to midnight. This shows that they feel the risk of catastrophe is greater than ever -- even higher than during the Cold War.

SEE: Cybersecurity in an IoT and mobile world (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Since it was created in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been seen as a measure of the world's vulnerability to disaster, first from nuclear weapons but also now from climate change and disruptive technologies.

Global instability

The group of scientists warned that several major arms control treaties and negotiations have ended or been undermined during the past year, creating an environment conducive to a renewed nuclear arms race. They warned that government action on climate change still falls short.

But they also said that threats to the "information ecosphere" -- like the spread of misinformation and fake news -- could also create dangerous global instability. Ongoing disinformation campaigns are corrupting the decision-making processes needed to tackle nuclear and climate threats, the scientists said.

"In the last year, many governments used cyber-enabled disinformation campaigns to sow distrust in institutions and among nations, undermining domestic and international efforts to foster peace and protect the planet," the group said.

While countries have long attempted to use propaganda to drive their particular political agendas, the internet now provides widespread, inexpensive access to worldwide audiences. The recent arrival of 'deepfake' audio and video could also undermine our ability to separate truth from fiction.

"The resulting falsehoods hold the potential to create economic, social, and military chaos, increasing the possibility of misunderstandings or provocations that could lead to war, and fomenting public confusion that leads to inaction on serious issues facing the planet. Agreement on facts is essential to democracy and effective collective action."

SEE: AI can fight climate change but there's a catch: Optimization doesn't automatically equal emissions reduction

They scientists also worry about the impact of artificial intelligence and its use in military decision making and command and control systems.

"The overall global trend is toward complex, high-tech, highly automated, high-speed warfare. The computerized and increasingly AI-assisted nature of militaries, the sophistication of their weapons, and the new, more aggressive military doctrines asserted by the most heavily armed countries could result in global catastrophe," the group said.

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