A physicist, a philanthropist, and a technologist walk into a bar at 2 minutes to midnight…

Brett Schilke
Jul 17, 2018 · 4 min read

This isn’t a joke, or even the setup for one. It’s the kind of interaction we sought to create over the past year when Singularity University welcomed the N Square Collaborative to our community, as part of an experimental impact partnership to explore opportunities at the intersection of exponential technology and nuclear threat innovation.

These uncommon partners donned VR headsets and tinkered with robots, and had conversations about how liquid democracy and bacteria can help reduce global nuclear threat. But before we go there, some context…

A world without nuclear threat.

The risk of a nuclear detonation, whether by accident or design, is considered by many experts to be greater today than at any other time in history.

The doomsday clock — a measure of how close our world is to nuclear disaster — currently sits at 2 minutes to midnight (where midnight =💥).

This is, frankly, a downright terrifying concept. Due to the instability of nuclear stockpiles, tension between world superpowers, and unpredictability of leaders with nuclear weapons under their command, the risk of a nuclear disaster, either intentional or accidental, is higher than it has been since 1954.

N Square aims to change that. A collaboration between the MacArthur Foundation, the Skoll Global Threats Fund, Ploughshares Fund, and the Carnegie Corporation of New York, their mission is to build a network of leaders from technology, media, education, and design to tackle the massive challenge of significantly reducing global nuclear weapons threat.

Daunting, right? 😳

The road map is already laid out. The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which publishes the Doomsday Clock time, issued a report in 2018 that outlines specific bullet points for what our world can do to rewind the clock and create a safer future. N Square supports podcasts, game development, and design collaborations that move us along this path, and they have released a comprehensive guide to evolving the nuclear conversation that empowers anyone to be part of the dialogue.

Uncommon Partners & Creative Abrasion

N Square executes on this strategy by bringing together technologists, nuclear experts, and representatives from the media to identify innovations at the uncommon intersection of those domains.

It’s a value we share; an approach to partnership and collaboration that seeks points of creative abrasion, driven by the belief that true innovation comes from the intersection of diverse perspectives.

Creative abrasion is about creating an environment wherein ideas are constantly challenged and new intersections are made.

N Square works with the Norman Lear Center to connect nuclear experts with showrunners and Hollywood producers. They seat scientists from national labs next to experts in game design to make the security of our nuclear waste repositories more reliable, and they put policy makers at the same table as podcasters to imagine how to better shape public awareness of critical issues.

Through the one-year collaboration with Singularity University, experts from across the SU community connected with decision makers, funders, and nuclear specialists to imagine moonshot opportunities that could make the world exponentially safer. Cross-disciplinary project teams are now engaged in projects that will launch throughout 2018, asking questions like:

How might blockchain make the nuclear materials supply chain more secure?

How might digital biology be used to identify and neutralize nuclear materials?

How might artificial intelligence and machine learning be leveraged to share facts and perspectives on nuclear threat with new, diverse audiences?

It’s these questions that sit at the heart of our partnership with N Square, and at the heart of our mission to empower a community that leverages technology to create a better future.

Want to take action?

As we cap off a year of collaboration between N Square and Singularity University, we have a number of ways you can learn more and take action to reduce global nuclear threat.

Connect with your nearest SingularityU Chapter:
Starting in 2018, several of our SingularityU Chapters will host community screenings of the documentary The Bomb and host interactive discussions about how everyday people can have a role in what’s often viewed exclusively as a nation-state problem.

Screenings will take place at SingularityU Chapters in the following locations:

North America:
Austin, TX
Chicago, IL
St. Louis, MO
Toronto, Canada

South America:
Porto Alegre, Brazil
Rio de Janiero, Brazil
Uberlandia, Brazil
Vitoria, Brazil
Caracas, Venezuela

Copenhagen, Denmark
Bordeaux, France
Toulouse, France
Athens, Greece
Dublin, Ireland
Milan, Italy
Barcelona, Spain
Geneva, Switzerland

Cairo, Egypt
Cape Town, South Africa


To attend a screening and community discussion, connect with your local Chapter here.

And while you’re at it:

Play a game about nuclear security, download a guide to action, or explore a nuclear innovation timeline with tools from N Square. And if you’re interested in getting more deeply involved, submit a nomination for the next class of the N Square Innovators Network.

Finally, watch the SU Experts on Air session with Erika Gregory and Paul Carroll from N Square Collaborative, and watch Erika’s TED talk, sharing a vision for a world free of nuclear weapons.

This post is part of a series taking a look at what’s happening in Impact at Singularity University as we move through 2018. Take a look at some quick stats, a story about 50,000 kids changing the world, and keep an eye out for more stories to come.


Stories from Singularity University and the SingularityU…

Brett Schilke

Written by

Learning architect and storyteller for the future. Currently: children’s author, museum designer, faculty @singularityu. // brettschilke.com


Stories from Singularity University and the SingularityU community.

Brett Schilke

Written by

Learning architect and storyteller for the future. Currently: children’s author, museum designer, faculty @singularityu. // brettschilke.com


Stories from Singularity University and the SingularityU community.

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