IEET > GlobalDemocracySecurity > Fellows > Jamais Cascio
Jamais Cascio   Jan 25, 2007   Open the Future  

Five Minutes to Midnight: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists has a well-known icon, shown here: the ticking clock, counting down to midnight. Throughout the Cold War, as tensions between the superpowers rose and waned, the Bulletin would move the minute hand closer or further away from the 12 o’clock mark.

clockx4440x.jpg The closest it ever got was 2 minutes to midnight, in 1953 (after the first H-bomb test), and it has reached 3 minutes to midnight twice. In 1991, as the Cold War ended, the minute hand was moved to 17 minutes out as a demonstration of the more relaxed relationship between the superpowers. But in the intervening 16 years, the minute hand has crept back, reaching 7 minutes to midnight in 2002; this month, the hand was moved to 5 minutes to midnight. What’s notable about this isn’t simply the move, but why it moved: the threats arising from global warming, and the potential for weapons derived from biotechnology and molecular nanotechnology, have joined nuclear proliferation as a cause for concern about our fate.

These are familiar issues to readers of OtF and WorldChanging, but up until recently the discussion of civilization-level threats beyond nuclear war rarely made it out of think tanks and futurist websites. With the Bulletin adding climate and bio/nanotech to its concerns, it’s starting to look like efforts to push for greater mainstream awareness of major threats—and their possible solutions—may finally be paying off.

Carbon Info at the Supermarket: Given the reaction to the cheeseburger footprint story, it should come as no surprise that the notion of identifying the greenhouse impact of food is gaining currency. The idea hasn’t peaked; in fact, it looks like it’s only going to get bigger. The UK supermarket chain Tesco announced late last week that it would put carbon labels on the products that it carries.

...the UK’s biggest retailer, which produces 2m tonnes of carbon a year in the UK, said it would put new labels on every one of the 70,000 products it sells so that shoppers can compare carbon costs in the same way they can compare salt content and calorie counts. [...] The new carbon labelling programme will not be immediate. Tesco said it would first have to develop a “universally accepted and commonly understood” measuring system.

If Tesco wants this to work, they need to make the carbon label available to other retailers, so that it truly does become a universal system.

Into the Gap: The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology published a press release today that’s worth checking out. A project on the “Software Control of Matter” has come up with a series of molecular manufacturing development projects that could well launch the era of the nanofactory far sooner than most expected.

CRN’s concern, and it’s one that I share, is that there are as of now no real plans for handling the emergence of a technology this powerful. As Mike Treder puts it, “Existing nanotechnology policies, and most proposed policies, do not address huge new areas of concern raised by tomorrow’s revolutionary manufacturing potential. That gap could be calamitous.”

Two Tickets for Apocalypse II: Electric Boogloo, Please: This rocks—the website A Futurist at the Movies, which examines the plausibility of speculative fiction on film, has used my Eschatological Taxonomy to grade the level of threat in a variety of science fiction movies. Some examples: The Road Warrior (Class 1); The Matrix (Class 2); Children of Men (Class 3a); Star Wars (Class X—the destruction of Alderaan).

A couple of the apocalypse classes have no example movies. Any ideas what would fit in Classes 3B and 4?

Jamais Cascio is a Senior Fellow of the IEET, and a professional futurist. He writes the popular blog Open the Future.

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