The Doomsday clock, of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is back in the news. It’s 11:57:30. It was 11:57; the thirty-second increment is unpresidented [sic]. The amount of time until midnight is supposed to indicate how close we are to, well, Doomsday.
I feel reasonably sure that I’ve seen somewhere a suggestion that the Doomsday clock could be calibrated such that the probability of Doomsday is proportional to the reciprocal of the time towards midnight. If I had to guess this is an idea of Douglas Hofstadter but I don’t have his books at hand right now. (This is annoyingly hard to Google, because the Doomsday argument gets in the way.)
Some people have objected to the thirty-second news as unnecessary fine-tuning. But in this reciprocal view that isn’t so strange; it corresponds to adjusting the probability of Doomsday from, say, one per thirty years to one per twenty-five years. There have been moves from five to six minutes before, to which this is proportional. Also, the clock was at 11:57; it’s only been at 11:58 once before, after the US and Soviet Union did thermonuclear tests in close temporal proximity in 1953. So unless they want to say it is literally the worst it has ever been, two and a half minutes to midnight it is.
The board’s decision to move the clock less than a full minute—something it has never before done— reflects a simple reality: As this statement is issued, Donald Trump has been the US president only a matter of days.
Let’s see what happens next year.