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In this guest post, Andy Franzkowiak, Director of Shrinking Space, discusses our fascination with the end of the world and Project Doomsday, a live show coming to the museum in February.

We have always been fascinated by doomsday scenarios—from disease outbreaks to asteroid strikes, the healthy consideration of the end of the world as we know it has been the inspiration for everything from scientific papers to films. We are particularly drawn to asking who will be the unlikely hero in such an event; perhaps Will Smith or (more likely) scientists in a lab, or an engineer working on an innovative new technology.

The real Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists’ Doomsday Clock currently sits at two and a half minutes to midnight, due to our geopolitical situation, climate change and emerging technologies. If the clock strikes midnight darkness will descend, meaning humanity is on the brink of annihilation. The Doomsday Clock was originally designed to highlight how humanity is faring on planet Earth, specifically in relation to a nuclear threat, and over the decades since its inception other existential issues have been added to the doomsday scenarios, including climate change. A panel of experts meet annually to discuss their take on our plight, and push or pull the time closer towards or away from midnight. The ‘safest’ we have ever been was shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall, which took the clock hand to 23.45.

In Manchester, 70 years ago this year, the first programmable computer, nicknamed ‘Baby’, executed its first digital command. At the same time, the question of artificial intelligence was being mooted in conversations about ‘intelligent machines’ between Alan Turing and Grey Walter—and so began the quest to create AI. In the early 21st century, our fascination with the possibility of artificial intelligence, and its ubiquity across all areas of our lives, has led to a proliferation in research into its realisation. Alongside this increase in the inevitable cross-society utilisation of AI, has grown a collection of doomsday warnings from prominent global characters, particularly Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and Nick Bostrom, as to where all of this will lead.

Perhaps to…

Project Doomsday – The Intelligent Machine Chapter!

Computer science and cybersecurity expert Miranda Mowbray presenting at Project Doomsday
Computer science and cybersecurity expert Miranda Mowbray presenting at Project Doomsday

Project Doomsday is a raucous affair, where everyone is the hero, including you! The story goes that those present (the audience) are Project Doomsday, selected due to their knowledge, skills and critical thinking under end-of-the-world pressure. They hope that they will never be called into action; however, some day they most certainly will, and the Doomsday Clock will be set to midnight, the clarion call for our hive mind to assemble.

In a crucial 60-minute countdown, you will be tasked with getting to grips with the impending disaster scenario, listening to experts outlining their take on the situation—trying not to panic—and then leading the world to safety against insurmountable odds. The fate of the world is in your hands.

Are you ready to save humanity? The countdown begins…

Project Doomsday – The Intelligent Machine Chapter takes place at the Museum of Science and Industry on February 8. Tickets cost £5 and are available to book now.

Project Doomsday – The Intelligent Machine Chapter is a Shrinking Space production, premiered at New Scientist Live in 2016.

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