Incident 27: Nuclear False Alarm

Description: An alert of five incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles was properly identified as a false-positive by the Soviet Union operator Stanislov Petrov.


New ReportNew ReportNew ResponseNew ResponseDiscoverDiscoverView HistoryView History
Alleged: Soviet Union developed and deployed an AI system, which harmed All Life on Earth.

Incident Stats

Incident ID
Report Count
Incident Date
Sean McGregor

CSETv0 Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Full Description

On the night September 26, 1983, a false report of five American intercontinental ballisic missiles was registered at a Soviet military base. Stanislov Petrov was working the night shift at Serpukhov-15 when a warning of the first missile came through, carrying the highest level of confidence in its reporting. Knowing the technology was new and rushed into use, Petrov phoned his superiors but did not call for a counterstrike. The alerts continued to come in until the system reported five incoming ICBM's from the United States that would strike in approximately 12 minutes. Several factors dissuaded Petrov from calling for a counterstrike: the newness of the technology, the unrealistically high confidence level, the low amount of missiles reported (a real first attack would have been many more), and the fact radar had not picked up any incoming objects. The satellite Oko system had incorrectly identified the light reflecting off high-altitude clouds above North Dakota to be the glare of launched missiles. After 23 minutes of waiting, Petrov felt comfortable confirmed this had been a false positive. The story was first reported publicly in 1998.

Short Description

An alert of five incoming intercontinental ballistic missiles was properly identified as a false-positive by the Soviet Union operator Stanislov Petrov.



Harm Distribution Basis


AI System Description

Oko satellite imaging meant to collect image input and determine the likelihood of those images containing evidence of missile launch

System Developer

Soviet Union

Sector of Deployment

Public administration and defence

Relevant AI functions


AI Techniques

Oko satellites, image recognition

AI Applications

Early warning system


Soviet Union

Named Entities

Soviet Union, Oko, United States

Technology Purveyor

Soviet Union, United States

Beginning Date


Ending Date


Near Miss

Near miss



Lives Lost


Infrastructure Sectors


Data Inputs

Geospatial Satellite Imagery

GMF Taxonomy Classifications

Taxonomy Details

Known AI Goal

Threat Detection

Potential AI Technology

Satellite Imaging

Known AI Technical Failure

Data or Labelling Noise, Limited Dataset, Black Swan Event

Potential AI Technical Failure

Generalization Failure

The Man Who Saved the World

The Man Who Saved the World

1983 Soviet nuclear false alarm incident · 2003

On 26 September 1983, the nuclear early-warning system of the Soviet Union reported the launch of multiple USAF Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles from bases in the United States. These missile attack warnings were correctly iden…

Stanislav Petrov: The man who may have saved the world · 2013

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Stanislav Petrov: ''I knew perfectly well that nobody would be able to correct my mistake if I had made one''

Thirty years ago, on 26 September 1983, the world was saved from potent…

Who is Stanislav Petrov, the man who literally saved the world from nuclear... · 2017

Stanislav Petrov, 77, passed away on May 19, 2017. His death in his home in the Moscow suburbs was little noted at the time. Petrov, however, is one of a few humans who can say they literally saved the world. The veteran was a lieutenant co…

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet Officer Who Helped Avert Nuclear War, Is Dead at 77 · 2017

The alarm sounded during one of the tensest periods in the Cold War. Three weeks earlier, the Soviets had shot down a Korean Air Lines commercial flight after it crossed into Soviet airspace, killing all 269 people on board, including a con…

Soviet officer who averted cold war nuclear disaster dies aged 77 · 2017

‘Gut instinct’ told Lt Col Stanislav Petrov that apparent launch of US missiles was actually early warning system malfunction

This article is more than 1 year old

This article is more than 1 year old

A Soviet officer whose cool head and qui…

Stanislav Petrov, 'The Man Who Saved The World,' Dies At 77 · 2017

Stanislav Petrov, 'The Man Who Saved The World,' Dies At 77

Enlarge this image toggle caption Pavel Golovkin/AP Pavel Golovkin/AP

Stanislav Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union's Air Defense Forces, and his job was to monitor…

Stanislav Petrov, Soviet credited with averting nuclear war, dies at 77 · 2017

CLOSE The former Soviet military officer credited with preventing a possible nuclear disaster during the Cold War has died at age 77. Time

Stanislav Petrov at his home in Fryazino, Russia, on Aug. 27, 2015. (Photo: Pavel Golovkin, AP)

A Sov…

Stanislav Petrov: the true story of the grumpy Russian who singlehandedly stopped armageddon · 2017

One night in 1983, a screen in a Soviet bunker began flashing red: nuclear attack or false alarm? One man had to decide. Colin Freeman tells his story

NB. This piece on Lieutenant Colonel Stanislav Petrov originally ran in 2015, and has bee…

RIP Stanislav Petrov: Russian colonel who saved world from all-out nuclear war · 2017

Obit Stanislav Petrov, one of the unsung heroes of the Cold War without whose guts and intelligence you wouldn't be reading this, has died at the age of 77, his son has confirmed.

Petrov was a former Lieutenant Colonel in the Soviet Air Def…

Interview: Stanislav Petrov, Russian Who Averted Nuclear War · 2017

Stanislav Petrov, the retired officer of the Soviet Air Defense Forces whose death at the age of 77 was announced this week, did not enjoy discussing the day he averted a nuclear holocaust.

Maybe he was tired of giving interviews about the …

Stanislav Petrov, who averted possible nuclear war, dies at 77 · 2017

Media playback is unsupported on your device Media caption Stanislav Petrov: ''I knew perfectly well that nobody would be able to correct my mistake if I had made one''

A former Soviet military officer credited with averting a possible nucl… · 2017

Petrov told his commander that the system was giving false information. He was not at all certain, but he was driven by the fact that Soviet ground radar could not confirm a launch. The radar system picked up incoming missiles only well aft…

Obituary: Stanislav Petrov was declared to have died on September 18th · 2017

OVER the years, Stanislav Petrov got used to those telephone calls. Typically they would come at night or at the weekend, just as he was unwinding. He would lift the receiver to hear the jaunty strains of “Arise, our mighty country!” in his…

Three times a computer glitch has created a false nuclear alarm · 2018

A terrifying message was flashed across phones, televisions and radios this weekend in Hawaii – “BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT INBOUND TO HAWAII. SEEK IMMEDIATE SHELTER. THIS IS NOT A DRILL”.

Americans rushed for safety after the 8.10am message,…

Because Stanislav Petrov reported a computer malfunction in 1983, we know him today as "The man who saved the world" · 2018

During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were highly paranoid and both countries invested in building nuclear weaponry. While neither side wanted an actual war to break out, they prepared just in case. In such a state of …

Meet the man who single-handedly stopped a nuclear war · 2018

Meet the man who single-handedly stopped a nuclear war

…And saved 4,590,774,355 lives

Joan Westenberg 🌈 Blocked Unblock Follow Following Mar 23, 2018

One of the most important people to have ever lived passed away last year.

There wasn’t a…

The Computer That Almost Started A Nuclear War, And The Man Who Stopped It · 2018

If things had gone just slightly differently on a tense night in 1983, today would be the 35th anniversary of the start of of World War III, for whoever was left alive to observe such an occasion. 6:00 Eastern Time on September 25, 2018 mar…

Stanislav Petrov, the Soviet officer 'saved' the world from nuclear war · 2018

Legend has it that on September 26, 1983, in a nuclear command and control center outside of Moscow, Lt. Col. Stanislav Petrov detected five US nuclear warheads headed right for him but stood down from calling for a massive Soviet retaliati…

A global nuclear weapons disaster averted by Stanislav Petrov in 1983 · 2018

It was the moment Stanislav Petrov had been dreading since childhood, and preparing for much of his adult life.

After decades of Cold War tension, the early warning satellites had been triggered. The Americans had launched their nuclear mis…

35 years ago today, one man saved us from world-ending nuclear war · 2018

On September 26, 1983, the planet came terrifyingly close to a nuclear holocaust.

The Soviet Union’s missile attack early warning system displayed, in large red letters, the word “LAUNCH”; a computer screen stated to the officer on duty, So…

Man who 'saved the world' Stanislav Petrov FINALLY given award 35 years after he recognised US nuke attack was a false alarm · 2018

A FORMER Soviet colonel credited with averting all-out nuclear war between Russia and the United States has been honoured 35 years after his heroic act.

Stanislav Petrov was working as an officer at a secret command base in Moscow in 1983 w…

Man who 'saved the world' Stanislav Petrov awarded for spotting US nuke attack was a false alarm · 2018

A Soviet officer credited with preventing nuclear Armageddon 35 years ago has been posthumously awarded for 'saving the world'.

The actions of Stanislav Petrov in 1983 likely averted an all-out nuclear war between the United States and Russ…

Stanislav Petrov Saved the World from Destruction: Can We Too Resist? · 2018

He wouldn’t become the Left’s new man. Neither should we.

Thirty-five years ago, just after midnight on the morning of September 26, a midranking officer in the Soviet Army single-handedly saved both his country and ours. Now that the Ameri…

Stanislav Petrov: The Forgotten Man who Saved the World From Nuclear War · 2019

Can one man save the world? Could just one action by one person prevent the downfall of human civilization? This simply sounds like a fictional story like Superman. It’s unrealistic. But one man, Stanislav Petrov, was able to do this. Yet, …

The Man Who Saved the World · 2019

“The Man Who Saved the World” is the gripping true story of a lieutenant colonel of the Soviet Air Defense Forces, Stanislav Petrov, who refused to order the launch of nuclear weapons when the warning system showed — erroneously — incoming …

Nuclear Near Miss: Remembering the ‘Man Who Saved the World’ · 2019

Next week marks 35 years since America and Russia narrowly avoided fighting a nuclear war—the kind that “cannot be won and must never be fought,” in the words of Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t the first time the two nations lived through such a c…

Happy 35th Anniversary to the Closest the World Has Come to Total Nuclear Annihilation! · 2019

The Cuban Missile Crisis is typically the gold standard for nuclear close calls. For 13 days, America had nuclear missiles ready to deploy from Italy and Turkey, while Russia did the same in Cuba. It is widely considered the nearest that we…


A "variant" is an incident that shares the same causative factors, produces similar harms, and involves the same intelligent systems as a known AI incident. Rather than index variants as entirely separate incidents, we list variations of incidents under the first similar incident submitted to the database. Unlike other submission types to the incident database, variants are not required to have reporting in evidence external to the Incident Database. Learn more from the research paper.

Similar Incidents

By textual similarity

Did our AI mess up? Flag the unrelated incidents