Will IT bring about the end of the world?

The inventors of the Doomsday Clock are holding a series of 'doomsday reconsidered' meetings to look at future threats to civilisation
Written by Steve Ranger, Global News Director

Is this the way the world ends, not with a bang but an error message? Experts are warning that IT disasters could be a threat to the human race.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists — famed for its Doomsday Clock, which now sits at seven minutes to midnight — is holding a series of "doomsday reconsidered" meetings to look at future threats to civilisation.

The organisation's executive director Kennette Benedict told Radio 4's Today programme: "What we're doing is taking stock of the threats that might be catastrophic to human societies."

As well as the continuing threat of atomic weapons new threats will be investigated. She said: "We'll also be looking at new developments in life sciences, in synthetic biology, for instance, and some of the emerging technologies, nanotechnologies and how these may converge with life and developments in biotechnologies, and we'll also look at information technology and the vulnerabilities of civilian infrastructure."

Also this week, Scott Borg, the director and chief economist of the US Cyber Consequences Unit — which gives the US government risk assessments of possible cyber attacks — warned that criminals or terrorists could target IT systems.

One key target could be supervisory control and data acquisition systems in power plants and similar industries.

He told the newspaper The Independent: "Think of the control systems for chemical plants, railway lines or manufacturing facilities. Shutting these systems down is a nuisance. Causing them to do the wrong thing at the wrong time is much worse."

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