The Technium

The Clock in the Mountain


ClockMt
A work crane at the Clock site in western Texas.

There is a Clock ringing deep inside a mountain. It is a huge Clock, hundreds of feet tall, designed to tick for 10,000 years. Every once in a while the bells of this buried Clock play a melody. Each time the chimes ring, it’s a melody the Clock has never played before. The Clock’s chimes have been programmed to not repeat themselves for 10,000 years. Most times the Clock rings when a visitor has wound it, but the Clock hoards energy from a different source and occasionally it will ring itself when no one is around to hear it. It’s anyone’s guess how many beautiful songs will never be heard over the Clock’s 10 millennial lifespan.

TunnelWideningHi Digging out the entrance tunnel for the Clock.

The Clock is real. It is now being built inside a mountain in western Texas. This Clock is the first of many millennial Clocks the designers hope will be built around the world and throughout time. There is a second site for another Clock already purchased at the top of a mountain in eastern Nevada, a site surrounded by a very large grove of 5,000-year-old bristlecone pines. Appropriately, bristlecone pines are among the longest-lived organisms on the planet. The designers of the Clock in Texas expect its chimes will keep ringing twice as long as the oldest 5 millennia-old bristlecone pine. Ten thousand years is about the age of civilization, so a 10K-year Clock would measure out a future of civilization equal to its past. That assumes we are in the middle of whatever journey we are on – an implicit statement of optimism.

Largegeneva chris greg
Engineer Chris Rand (right) with the first Geneva wheel part.

The Clock is being machined and assembled in California and Seattle. Meantime the mountain in Texas is being readied. Why would anyone build a Clock inside a mountain with the hope that it will ring for 10,000 years? Part of the answer: just so people will ask this question, and having asked it, prompt themselves to conjure with notions of generations and millennia. If you have a Clock ticking for 10,000 years what kinds of generational-scale questions and projects will it suggest? If a Clock can keep going for ten millennia, shouldn’t we make sure our civilization does as well? If the Clock keeps going after we are personally long dead, why not attempt other projects that require future generations to finish? The larger question is, as virologist Jonas Salk once asked, “Are we being good ancestors?”

The Clock’s inventor introduced the idea of the Clock (in 1995) with this context:

I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.

I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. The century hand advances once every 100 years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years.

That’s Danny Hillis, a polymath inventor, computer engineer, and designer, inventor and prime genius of the Clock. He and Stewart Brand, a cultural pioneer and trained biologist, launched a non-profit foundation to build at least the first Clock. Fellow traveler and rock musician Brian Eno named the organization The Long Now Foundation to indicate the expanded sense of time the Clock provokes – not the short now of next quarter, next week, or the next five minutes, but the “long now” of centuries.

Clockmock From left to right: Doug Carlston, Danny Hillis, Stewart Brand, Brian Eno inspect an early mockup of the clock’s calculating mechanism in 1996.

Eno also composed the never-repeating melody generator that rings the Clock’s chimes inside the mountain. Other people unhappy with our society’s short-attention span are part of this group, including me (KK), one of its charter officers. This Clock in the Mountain is being funded and built on property owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder and CEO of Amazon.com. Bezos is also very active in designing the full experience of the Clock.

The first step in this multi-decade project was to construct a working 8-foot-tall prototype. This test version was finished (just in time) on New Year’s Eve 1999. At the stroke of midnight, the prototype 10,000-year Clock bonged twice to usher in the new millennia, the year 2000, in front of a small crowd at its temporary home in the Presidio, San Francisco. The Clock now resides in the London Science Museum. Somewhat worrisome, there have been moments when it was not wound.

SB10KClock Stewart Brand, just back from Morocco, stands before the prototype clock minutes before it rings in the year 2000.

In contrast to the human-scale of the prototype, the Clock in the mountain will be monumental, almost architectural in scale. It will be roughly 200 feet tall. Located under a remote limestone mountain in the Sierra Diablo Mountain range in Texas, it will require a day’s hike to reach its interior gears. Just reaching the entrance tunnel situated 1500 feet above the high scrub desert will leave some visitors out of breath, nicked by thorns, and wondering what they got themselves into.

HikingUpSlot
The current trail up to the Clock’s entrance.

To see the Clock you need to start at dawn, like any pilgrimage. Once you arrive at its hidden entrance in an opening in the rock face, you will find a jade door rimmed in stainless steel, and then a second steel door beyond it. These act as a kind of crude airlock, keeping out dust and wild animals. You rotate its round handles to let yourself in, and then seal the doors behind you. It is totally black. You head into the darkness of a tunnel a few hundred feet long. At the end there’s the mildest hint of light on the floor. You look up. There is a tiny dot of light far away, at the top of top of a 500 foot long vertical tunnel about 12 feet in diameter. There is stuff hanging in the shaft.

The dot of light beckons you. You begin the ascent. You start climbing a continuous spiral staircase, winding up the outer rim of the tunnel, rising toward the very faint light overhead. The stairs are carved out of the rock. The material above each step has been removed from the tunnel leaving astoundingly precise rock stairs. To cut the spiral staircase Stuart Kendall of Seattle Solstice invented a special stone slicing robot to continuously grind out the stairs at the rate of a few stairs per day. His robot incrementally creeps downward while the debris falls into the central shaft out of the way.

A demo of the robotic stair cutter using a concrete sample.

Round the tunnel and up the tube toward the light you head. The first part of the Clock you encounter on the ascent up the spiral staircase is the counterweights of the Clock’s drive system. This is a huge stack of stone disks, about the size of a small car, and weighing 10,000 pounds. Depending on when the clock was last wound, you may have to climb 75 feet before you reach the weights.

After you pass the weights, you arrive at the winding station. It is a horizontal windlass, or a capstan like the turnstile on an old sailing vessel that winds up an anchor. It takes two or three visitors to push around the capstan of the clock and to lift its 10,000-pound stones. You rotate around until you can no further. Now the clock is wound.

DaveNgear 500px
One of the gears milled from stainless steel. Each notch in the gear is inclined in 3 dimensions.

You keep climbing. For the next 70-80 feet of ascent you pass 20 huge horizontal gears (called Geneva wheels), 8 feet in diameter, each weighing 1,000 pounds. This is the mechanical computer that calculates the over 3.5 million different melodies that the chimes will ring inside the mountain over the centuries. The chimes never repeat so that every visitor’s experience is unique, and the calculated variety creates a sense of progressive time, rather than endless recycling. And “calculate” is the correct word, because cut into the gears is an elaborate system of slots and sliding pins, which, much like a Babbage Difference Engine, will perform digital calculations, generating the next sequence of the ten bells. Only the Clock calculates without electricity, using your stored energy to moving its physical logic gates and bits. This is the world’s slowest computer.


Outline of the elements that make up the Clock.

Clockschematic

Demo of the calculating mechanism.

On days when visitors are there to wind it, the calculated melody is transmitted to the chimes, and if you are there at noon, the bells start ringing their unique one-time-only tune. The 10 chimes are optimized for the acoustics of the shaft space, and they are big.

Finally, way out of breath, you arrive at the primary chamber. Here is the face of the Clock. A disk about 8 feet in diameter artfully displays the natural cycles of astronomical time, the pace of the stars and the planets, and the galactic time of the Earth’s procession. If you peer deep into the Clock’s workings you can also see the time of day.

LabeledFaceSM
Sketch of the Clock’s face and some of the cycles it displays.

But in order to get the correct time, you need to “ask” the clock. When you first come upon the dials the time it displays is an older time given to the last person to visit. If no one has visited in a while, say, since 8 months and 3 days ago, it will show the time it was then. To save energy, the Clock will not move its dials unless they are turned, that is, powered, by a visitor. The Clock calculates the correct time, but will only display the correct time if you wind up its display wheel. So yet another hand-turned wheel awaits your effort to update the face of time. This one is much easier to wind because the dial motion consumes less power than ringing bells. You start winding and the calendar wheels whirr until BING, it stops and it shows the current date and time.

So how does the Clock keep going if no one visits it for months, or years, or perhaps decades? If it is let to run down between visits, who would keep resetting it? The Clock is designed to run for 10,000 years even if no one ever visits (although it would not display the correct time till someone visited). If there is no attention for long periods of time the Clock uses the energy captured by changes in the temperature between day and night on the mountain top above to power its time-keeping apparatus. In a place like a top of a mountain, this diurnal difference of tens of degrees in temperature is significant and thus powerful. Thermal power has been used for small mantel clocks before, but it has not been done before at this scale. The differential power is transmitted to the interior of the Clock by long metal rods. As long as the sun shines and night comes, the Clock can keep time itself, without human help. But it can’t ring its chimes for long by itself, or show the time it knows, so it needs human visitors.

If the sun shines through the clouds more often then expected, and if the nights are colder than usual, the extra power generated by this difference (beyond what is ordinarily needed to nudge the pendulum) will bleed over into the Clock weights. That means that over time, in ideal conditions, the sun will actually wind up the chimes, and wind them up sufficiently for them to ring when no one is there.

Clockstairs
Cardboard model of the stairs and hanging mechanisms.

The rotating dials, gears, spinning governor, and internal slips of pins and slots within the Clock will be visible only if you bring your own light. The meager dot of light above is not sufficient to see much otherwise. Lights off, the Clock sits in near total darkness, talking to itself in slow clicks, for perhaps years at a time. In the darkness you can hear things moving, crisp non-random pings, like a crude thought trying to form inside a dim unlit brain.

Shining your light around the rest of the chamber you’ll see the pendulum and escapement encased in a shield of quartz glass – to keep out dust, air movements, and critters. The pendulum, which governs the timing of the Clock, is a 6-feet-long titanium assembly terminating with football-sized titanium weights. It swings at a satisfyingly slow 10-second period. The slight clicks of its escapement echo loudly in the silence of the mountain.

Building something to last 10,000 years requires both a large dose of optimism and a lot of knowledge. There’s a huge geek-out factor in the Clock because the engineering challenges are formidable. What do you build with that won’t corrode in 100 centuries? How do you keep it accurate when no one is around? The Clock’s technical solutions are often ingenious.

Almost any kind of artifact can last 10 millennia if stored and cared for properly. We have examples of 5,000-year-old wood staffs, papyrus, or leather sandals. On the other hand, even metal can corrode in a few years of rain. For longevity a 10K year environment is more important than the artifact’s material. The mountain top in Texas (and Nevada) is a high dry desert, and below, in the interior tunnel, the temperature is very even over seasons and by the day (55 degrees F) – another huge plus for longevity since freeze-thaw cycles are as corrosive as water. Dry, dark and stable temperatures are what archivists love. It’s an ideal world for a ceaseless Clock.

ISS International Space Station 357 previewTesting the longevity of materials in space on the MISSE (not part of the Clock project).

Still, the Clock is a machine with moving parts, and parts wear down and lubricants evaporate or corrode. Most of the Clock will be made in a marine grade 316 stainless steel. Because the engineering tolerances of the huge Clock are in fractions of an inch, rather than thousandths, the microscopic expansion by a film of rust won’t hurt the time keeping. The main worry of the Clockmakers is that elements of a 10K-year Clock – by definition – will move slowly. The millennial dial creeps so slowly it can be said to not move at all during your lifetime. Metals in contact with each other over those time scales can fuse – defeating the whole purpose of an ongoing timepiece. Dissimilar metals in contact can eat each other in galvanic corrosion. To counteract these tendencies some of the key moving parts of the Clock are non-metal – they are stone and hi-tech ceramics.

Ceramics will outlast most metals. We have found shards of clay pots 17,000 years old. And modern ceramics can be as hard as diamonds. All the bearings in the Clock will be engineered ceramic. Because these bearings are so hard, and rotate at very low speed, they require no lubrication – which normally attracts grit and eventually cause wear.

There is more than just technology in the mountain. The ticks of time are a very human invention. Astronomical calendars are among the first pieces of culture, and often the mark of civilizations. The cave holds culture. The Clock in the mountain not only plays the music of an ever-changing slow melody, but it will collect cultural expressions of time, ticks to mark the passage of decades and centuries. Off to the side of the main cavern of the Clock are a series of small grottos to explore and collect these notices of time. Five chambers will celebrate five powers of time: 1 year, 10 years, 100 years and 1,000 years. After one year, a mechanism will be built in the first chamber. After 10 years another anniversary marked and celebration built. Future generations will have to build the contents of the remaining chambers.

Behind the main chamber’s dials the stairs continue up to the outside summit of the mountain. The shaft above Clock continues to the surface, where its opening to the daylight is capped with a cupola of sapphire glass. This is the only part of the clock visible from outside, on the mountain peak. In this outdoor cupola sits the thermal-difference device to power the timekeeping, and also a solar synchronizer. Every sunny noon, a prism directs sunlight down the shaft and slightly heats up this ingenious mechanical device. That synchronizing signal is transmitted by rods further down to the Clock’s innards, where the imperceptible variations in the length of the day as the earth wobbles on its axis will be compensated so that the Clock can keep its noon on true solar noon. In that way the Clock is self-adjusting, and keeps good time over the centuries.

SolarSyncDrawing 225px
The solar synchronizer prototype.

The journey to the Clock in the mountain ends on the summit in light. It is the sun that powers its ringing below. Like a heart beating while we sleep, the Clock in the mountain keeps time even when we pretend the past did not happen and the future will not come.

P1070943
The local flora outside the clock at dawn.

The biggest problem for the beating Clock will be the effects of its human visitors. Over the span of centuries, valuable stuff of any type tends to be stolen, kids climb everywhere, and hackers naturally try to see how things work or break. But it is humans that keep the Clock’s bells wound up, and humans who ask it the time. The Clock needs us. It will be an out of the way, long journey to get inside the Clock ringing inside a mountain. But as long as the Clock ticks, it keeps asking us, in whispers of buried bells, “Are we being good ancestors?”

How do you become one of those time-conscious beings who visit and wind the Clock? Jeff Bezos has just launched a public web site, 10000-year-clock, where interested folks can register their desire to visit the Clock in the Mountain when it is finished many years from now. Bezos has said he will give some kind of preference to current members of the Long Now Foundation because the purpose of the Clock is to promote what the Foundation promotes: long-term thinking.

Update: There is now a wonderful profile in Wired of the people involved in making the Clock in the Mountain, here.




Comments
  • jacobrosenthal

    The 10000-year-clock link is broken currently, prepended by your domain.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Sorry. Now fixed.

  • http://www.gwern.net/ gwern

    Very cool. I was wondering how the Clock was going because I hadn’t seen anything for the last few years that was beyond the prototype and sketches. For example, I hadn’t known that Monel had been abandoned in favor of stainless steel.

    • Danny

      Monel just turned out to be hard to get in the sizes and shapes we wanted, so it mostly uses a high molybdenum stainless and titanium..

  • Nathan

    The new millennium began in 2001, as there was no year 0. While strictly speaking a millennium is any thousand-year period, conventionally when we speak of a ‘new millennium’ we are speaking of thousand-year offsets from January 1, 1AD.

    If the clock rings in a new millennium every thousand years from 1BC, seems like the message we will be sending into the future is that, capable as we are of engineering devices to survive through the centuries, we’re a bit dodgy on the maths.

    • Tarzan

      Suck it up.

    • ~_~

       We can’t say there was no year zero, because people weren’t using the Christian Calendar until several decades into the AD years.

      • Chad Oliver

        No, we can say that there was no year zero. Year 1BC was followed by year 1AD.  The fact that no-one used this calendar at the time is irrelevant, because *we* use it when referring to that time period.

        • http://sandervanrossen.blogspot.com/ Logical Error

          That’s actually odd, if there’s a “before christ” and “after christ” there’s no room in between for “at christ” (or something) ;)

          • Allen Reece

            AD means anno domini, in the year of our lord. The relevant distinction is before the birth of Christ and after the birth of Christ.

          • http://sandervanrossen.blogspot.com/ Logical Error

            That makes more sense, yes ;)

          • wlflopper

            Of course, if it’s not the year of one’s Lord–indeed, if one has no ‘Lord’–the ‘AD’ in dates is simply an offensive Christian imposition on everyone else.  The calendar shouldn’t be calculated based on the purported year of Jesus’ birth. While it doesn’t solve the problem, we at least have ‘BCE’ and ‘CE’ as substitutes: ‘Before the Current Era’ and ‘Current Era’. 

          • Brian in BC

            It’s actually COMMON Era and Before COMMON Era not “current”.  

          • wlflopper

            right.  sorry for the error.

          • John in Jacksonville

            An error of eras.
            Now that is ponderous!

          • AntoinetteE

            Jesus was actually born in 4 bc. check your bible and the date of King Herod to figure it correctly. But what the heck, no one’s going to correct it now, so we have the Before Common Era, and commen Era. Or ;current’ as some people call it.

          • Et2012

            Jesus is a fiction, a myth.

          • Tommy1

            prove it.

          • S.Poet

            Prove he wasn’t

    • AntoinetteEdmonds9

      So in reality the clock will be ringing out the old. What is wrong with that? We have been ringing out the old and in the new every New Years eve for generations.
      Hooray for the Clock and bless all thosewho helped build it.

  • Al Pittampalli

    This is absolutely fascinating, and inspiring. As we’re caught up in the day to day minutiae of life, these guys are focused on leaving a legacy worth living on for 10,000 years. It takes guts and a sense of real humanity to focus on a project like this. Very inspiring, indeed.

  • California_Bruce

    So, they did a test run of the prototype at the beginning of the last year of the second millennium A.D..  Was there any follow up to activate the prototype at the end of the second millennium, at the beginning of year one of the third millennium: January 1, 2001.  Here is a simple experiment: count from one to ten.  No matter how many times you try, it never ends at nine, always one-zero, the last number in the first series of ten.  You may try the same experiment counting from one to one hundred, and one to one-thousand.  It always ends with an even number having a final numeral digit of zero.  It is baffling why this concept is ignored by otherwise (seemingly) intelligent people.

    • Rick Gutleber

      It’s simple:  Most people look at “second millennium” as being synonymous with “the one thousands”, or the “twentieth century” as “the nineteen hundreds”.  Despite the fact that there was no Year Zero, it really is the more intuitive way of looking at these things.  This is further enforced by the fact that we refer to decades this way too.  While the second millennium did not end until December 31, 2000, the nineties, by definition, ended on December 31, 1999.  You cannot claim the “Nineties” ran from January 1, 1991 to December 31, 2000, because “Nineties” is definitely not the same as “the tenth decade”.  The common nomenclature is inconsistent, but most people don’t make the distinction.

      Although the difference is important, it seems only a few people (like you and me) actually care.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      People like round numbers. Everyone celebrated on the eve of 2000. It’s sort of like language. It doesn’t matter what the official rules are; what matters is what most people do or use. I can assure you that in one thousand years most people will again celebrate on the year 3000 and not 3001. The cuckoo appears when everyone is expecting it to appear.

    • aconover

      The reason the concept is ignored by
      “otherwise” intelligent people is actually rather simple;
      it’s irrelevant. The designation of a date is just an expression of a time-offset
      from some arbitrary reference point. The Gregorian calendar which we use
      today, wasn’t even formally established until (what we now call) the
      1500′s. Though a “millennium” may be defined as period of 1,000
      years, the initial reference point is – again – completely arbitrary.

      I actually feel that NOT having a year
      “0” makes the system far more elegant! It helps
      reinforce the notion that time is an abstract illusion which has been
      meticulously demarcated by man.

      • Mrtender

        On behalf of all of the the starving children of the world … i would like to thank the organizers of this for spending so much money on such a worth while project.

        • KevinF

          Honestly I think it’s a marvelous project. Sure it’s costly, but I’m sure you wouldn’t tell everyone [including yourself] to boycott the use of a cell phone so that it could be given to starving children.

          Or even a landline. After all, they barely even have snail mail in some of those places.

          I’m not saying we shouldn’t help starving children, just that this is a legacy they’re leaving behind. A Wonder of the Modern World.

        • Brian Todoroff

          While we’re at it let’s also thank those who built Stonehenge, the pyramids, the great cathedrals, and all the others who have added super human beauty and wonder to the universe to offset the chaos and suffering that will always exist.

        • Stefan Sittler

          I’ll thank you to leave this same comment on every single damn endeavor that costs a similar amount. Also, I think you ought to sell your computer and donate that, put your mouth where your mouth is.

          • Carol ^_^

            I say Bravo ~ This clock is one bit of ‘his/herstory for future generations ~ Get your ego out of the way and see the good in this clock ~ unique ~ thanks ^_^

        • Joesmoe999222

          You missed the point of the clock. The point is to promote
          long term thinking, goals and projects to address the issues of our society. To
          look beyond today or tomorrow or next year but to look at the future and how
          what we do today will impact it, shape it or destroy it, to inspire people to
          think about something beyond them self’s. If we can do that then there won’t be
          starving children in the world.

  • nickgogerty

    For those thinking long term, real estate around the clocks will become valuable as people make pilgrimages. :)  

    As time passes the clock’s iconic significance will transcend its functional meaning. After about 50-75 years, the clock and location will likely be seen as a window into a past culture in such a way that they will become giant functioning relics with a value beyond the purely material.  

    As an anthropologist it is easy to imagine a form of cargo-cult worship evolving around the time piece as the clock’s building culture (ours) gets mythologized and the clock is seen as transcendent of any culture or era over time.  It is a bit like knowing you will be building the mayan ruins or great pyramids in advance. Over time the clocks will pass from the profane into the sacred in structural anthropology terms.

    • Jup.

      >> For those thinking long term, real estate around the clocks will
      >> become valuable as people make pilgrimages. :)

      There’s a bitter irony in your saying that…

  • bbartel

    who paid for this?

    • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_XIPK2WY4NENSIR6DI7UNNKTW6E Shaggy

      Did you not read the article?

  • guest

    The word “clock” is a generic noun, not a name, so no capital letter, please.

    • samhammer

      Suck it up.

  • http://www.PrivateBiographer.com ElGordo

    It’s about time.

    • Texedit

      el gordo you will live a million years — a sense of humor is the guarantee of long life and your three words contain more hilarious unforgrettable side-splitting appropriate humor … you lucky Methusaleh.

  • Goggleyes

    Let us scrawl our name, upon the cubicle-door of Time itself.

  • http://dshan.me/ Derek

    Fascinating. I’d love to know more about how the message and purpose are being preserved and communicated forward, as the scale of the project (in “time” terms) is beyond anything I’m aware of. We still ask questions about the pyramids…will future generations have access to the ‘how and why’ of the clock? 

  • nbluedorn

    We can actually visit this place?

  • Matt Wilkie

    I live in a fifty year old house, which is considered long in the

    tooth here, and some wonder why we bother to renovate when it would be so much cheaper/faster to rip out and start fresh with modern techniques and material. At times I wonder too.

    Our previous house had it’s hundredth birthday with us. We shovelled out the rotted log foundation and replaced it with a concrete footing pressure treated wood pony wall. Friends and family told us we were foolish (and yet still helped). Next door was a house built at the same time as ours, falling apart and condemned. If the following residents take care of our beauty it may see a 2nd century celebration, but only if at least one family is similarly “foolish”.

    We visited some garage sales this morning and saw 3/4 century old dresser made out of rock maple for $20. At the next stop there was a piece made of pressed fibre board and staples with nicks and scratches and broken corners for $500; not likely to be much more than a decade old, if that.

    I like what you are doing. It’s important.  Thank you for being wise fools, and telling us about it.

  • Thomas Meacham

    I’ve been following this project since I first read about it in one one the Whole Earth publications some years back.  I just want to express my gratitude to the people who are making this project happen.  Are there still replacement parts available to pass down to ones children?

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_I2JJES7ANJPJ2AI2AMMESPBKVQ Trevor

    The problems i find in this machine are ! 1 will we see it working in our life time ? will it work ? how to replace a part that not working and how long to fix it ! (to get the piece made) 10,000 years is a very long time why 10,000 ? why not ? Wear n tear etc . The clock is moveing so slow will it achilly turn the cog or spindle ? who will chose the melody,s if thier diferent every time who will know ? why so big ? AND LAST OF ALL WHO IS GOING TO DUST IT ? 10,000 years of human dust will stop unthing ! best of luck with your legacy and long thoughts are with you

  • dratman

    This is a great and inspired project. Thank you for all your work.

    Approximately when do you expect the big clock to start running?

    A technical concern: won’t the thermal energy-harvesting mechanism require inspection and maintenance? Those moving parts will be more vulnerable to damage than the rest of the clock because of temperature cycling, weather, wind, geologic motion and possible tampering.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Yes, moving parts require more maintenance. The start up will be measure in “many years.”

      • dratman

        Like a cathedral, you mean?

  • http://www.artofday.com/artist_james_day.htm James Day

    I love love the concept but where did the funding for this come from? 

    • Guest

      From the guy who founded amazon.com, Jeff Bezos. 

  • David Swenson

    Beautiful and amazing project, but one scientific question. You write: 
    “Every sunny noon, a prism directs sunlight down the shaft and slightly heats up this ingenious mechanical device. That synchronizing signal is transmitted by rods further down to the Clock’s innards, where the imperceptible variations in the length of the day as the earth wobbles on its axis will be compensated so that the Clock can keep its noon on true solar noon.”

    Is there any effort to account for the fact that, regardless of wobbles, the solar noon isn’t a perfect accounting of time elapsed? Doesn’t solar noon depends on lat/long? I assume that on this timescale you have to account for continental drift. It’s a different meaning of tracking time if you’re counting the number of local solar noons (to some high degree of precision) rather than the actual number of seconds that have elapsed since the clock was set running.

    Of course, with that we open an interesting discussion on the meaning and relevance of different definitions of “time.”

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Yes, there are various designs in the works to compensate for all manner of deviations and variations that come up with the problem of measuring long periods of time. I did not mention them because a) they are very complicated, and b) they are unfinished. Keep tuned!

  • http://www.3mik.com/ Rajeev J

    Lot of people will question as to why they are doing this. But then to each his won. You are free to pursue your interests

  • http://www.makingthemovie.info/ J. Ott

    “My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings…”

    • A. Lurker

      “Ozymandias”, my favorite Shelley, is a threnody to self-aggrandizement. The clock is not about that. $42M would plant a beautiful proto-Old-Growth forest but our descendants, yours and mine, would only cut it down.

  • http://hans.gerwitz.com/ hans.gerwitz

    Thank you for this beautiful telling of the story, which will only achieve the goal of cultural change with meaningful exposure.  And thanks for reminding me to join Long Now.

  • http://www.moredarkthanshark.org radiocitizen

    Go to More Dark Than Shark at http://www.moredarkthanshark.org for everything about Brian Eno…

  • Iguessso

    the picture of “Stewart Brand, just back from Morocco, stands before the prototype clock…” really amazing. it looks like taken from an activity of some mysterious secret society and the magical-looking sphere on the clock just makes it perfect. =D

  • Dan McBride

    Somebody’s got more money than sense if they believe future generations are going to be impressed by a merchant’s fancy clock in a hill.

    If Bezos wants to be remembered, he should spend his spare cash on preserving some of the many species this era of humanity is wiping out.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Bezos is not building it to be remembered. In fact he calls himself the “first steward” of the Clock because he knows he will not be remembered, and that many will come after him. His name appears no where on the clock so it is very certain he will not be remembered in several hundred years. You are right, though. Building a clock deep inside a mountain in the middle of nowhere is a poor choice for trying to impress people.

  • Gene Linet

    Yet another attempt at the futile battle against impermanence.

    • Matt Wilkie

      …as is your next meal. Or your next breath for that matter.  The very definition of life could be characterized as a futile battle against entropy. Just because the ultimate end result is dissolution and chaos doesn’t mean the effort to build something grand is not worth it.

  • Harry

    Wow! what a fantastic idea. Love to visit

  • http://www.facebook.com/brownell.s Stephen Brownell

    Somewhat reminds me of the monastic avout celebrating Apert in Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.  Wouldn’t be surprised if some of the people working on this have read that.

    • Thomas Meacham

      I would suspect that this clock could only strongly attract such a community permanaently nearby.

    • Seth Cousins

      My understanding is that Anathem was inspired by this project, not the other way around.

      • Kevin_Kelly

        Correct. Neal joined us on several of our Long Now camps at the Nevada site of the clock.

  • thejory

    OK, silly question. What about erosion around the ‘window’?
    What happens if there is a earthquake or landslide nearby that jostles the whole thing?

  • Jon Richfield

    I feel uncomfortable about the objective value of the project, but as a work of … art of technology perhaps? … it certainly is imposing and surreal.

  • http://twitter.com/josearcToGo Jose A. Rodriguez C.

    Simply Awesome!.. 

  • samuel worth hilden

    Very good, I knew you could do it.Very new age,this gives me hope that humanity will strive for a balance between  nature and technology also a bond  of oneness together for the health of the biosphere.Love Love samuel worth hilden 

  • Wirebender

    Having read through all of the e-mail comments and replies, I find it almost depressing that nearly everyone except the originators of this monument have missed the point.   They all seem to think it is “about them”, personal and possessive.  The nay-sayers refute man-kind and civilization in general, and humanity in specifics.  They seem each to be unaware of human kind and human history and survival.  Their only concept is right or wrong, on their terms.  How can we be so small that we cannot grasp the infinite?  Those who have the intelligence and ability to understand the creativity and wonder of this magnificent monument to unselfish denial of recognition of their personal egos, and who have made this personal sacrifice of time and resources to leave a beacon to future generations that we were not perfect, but we were significant will be inspired.  How then does this become offensive to any rational human being?   It does not offend me, it only inspires me to remember that each of us will leave an indelible mark on the world.  It may be small, or it may be huge, but whatever it may be, it should be an inspiration to those who follow, and to do likewise if helpful, and not to do likewise, if  harmful.
         What mark will you leave?

  • Bob Balaram

    Are the design details available e.g. for the solar synchronizer ? Are there opportunities for the interested person to provide feedback on the design, suggest improvement, etc. i.e. to get technically involved in some manner ?

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Good question. If you have expertise to share send me an email kk at kk org and I’ll forward it to Zander Rose, who is overseeing the project.

  • http://twitter.com/markthebruce Mark Bruce

    Hi Kevin,

    I love the concept, and support the idea of our civilisation building enduring marvels such as this to last millennia. 

    But I couldn’t help but wonder whether you guys might build a precision Foucault Pendulum into the clock, which aside from the coolness factor (in my mind!) and its relation to measuring the natural cycles of our Earth, might also be tapped for small amounts of energy to power such a slowly ticking clock, its mechanism and chimes?

    Cheers,
    Mark

    • Kevin_Kelly

      It was talked about, but I forget why we passed over the idea.

  • Scout13

    Message in a bottle? I knew nothing of this project prior to reading this piece.  I recently saw Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams (about paintings created in a single cave over a 5000 year timeframe starting 30,000 years ago) and I’m struck by what must be a human impulse to leave a mark, however faint and anonymous, on the infinite. Nazca plains, Stonehenge, Gobekli Tepe, etc.–usually the explanation for the existence of these projects that push a given society’s science and technical capabilities to the outer edge is that they must be in the service of god(s).  What god might those who discover the clock millennia from now think we worshipped?  If it is nothing more than showing that despite pettiness, violence, and shortsightedness, we are still capable of achieving something of great beauty, it is well worth it.

  • thenewgreen

    This reminds me of the work of the artist Arthur Ganson. You can see what I mean here:
    http://hubski.com/pub?id=1591

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_GKWIDIW4JANMZYISDG5EJA26FI Bob

    Bezos now controls over a million acres of land surrounding this clock. A million acres taken out of production because of an unsound “environmental” stance. Rather than keep his land in a sustainable grazing program which would help feed people, he would rather build a clock to make people think. Makes me think he has no grasp on reality, or MMTS syndrome…(More Money Than Sense…

    • No

      Sustainable grazing program?  Have you ever been to far west Texas?

    • None

      Using land to feed grazing animals is about the least efficient way to create food for humans.

    • Scout13

      Well, in true Texas fashion, it is his land and he can do what he likes with it.  It takes 40 acres in west texas to feed one head of cattle.  No efficient is that?

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Bob, you are mistaken. A million acres have not been “taken out of production.” Did you make this up?

  • tech33

    Why isn’t the daily difference in barometric pressure used instead of a temperature differential to wind the clock?

    • Kevin_Kelly

      I don’t know why, but it was considered.

  • Rookie

    I find it absolutely astonishing that they’re working on something like this.  Many people wonder ‘Why did they build the pyramids?’, ‘What purpose were the space-visible designs on the ground from centruries ago’ representing?  This is on that scale.

    Something like this may very well be found 10,000 or even 100,000 years from now and whomever (or whatever) finds it will certainly be left with a puzzle to ponder:  why in the world did they build a clock like this?

    Inspired.

  • Agspoon

    As some others have pointed out, I don’t understand why this is so complex.  If it simply keeping track of the number of rotations of the Earth (as indicated by the compensation for high noon), then aren’t there easier ways to count the number of times the sun rises?  Sure, you might want to divide the day into smaller pieces (hours:min:sec), but if you are going to re-zero your clock at noon every day, then the clock does not need to be very inherently accurate.  Who cares if it reads 8943 years, 24 days, 5 hours, 21 min, 5 sec, or 4 hours, 3 min, 44 sec?

  • Professor Guy

    A 6 foot long pendulum has a period of 2.8 seconds.  To get the 10 second period mentioned in the article, the pendulum would need to have its center of mass more than 80 feet below the fulcrum (81’5″ actually).
    Am I missing something or was there a typo in the story?

    • Kevin_Kelly
      • Professor Guy

        No, that doesn’t work.  If the “radius of gyration” must be 80 feet from the pivot, then the actual pendulum must be much LONGER than that, not shorter.

        Something here doesn’t add up.

  • Foo

    Waste of time.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      Indeed. Most of the “time” no human will be around to appreciate the Clock’s antics.

  • Meyer

    I’m afraid that when the Taliban conquers us, they will blow this clock up along with other cultural artifacts deemed sacrilegious.  Would the clockmakers be willing to inscribe quotes from the Koran (in Arabic) on the clockface in order to protect against this?  Thank you.

    • Matt Wilkie

      Another project of the Long Now Foundation which dovetails with the 10,000 year clock is a new incarnation of the Rosetta Stone. “Our first prototype of a very long-term archive is The Rosetta Disk
      – a three inch diameter nickel disk with nearly 14,000 pages of
      information microscopically etched onto its surface. Since each page is
      an image, rather than a digital encoding of 1′s and 0′s, it can be read
      by the human eye using 500 power optical magnification. The disk rests
      in a sphere made of stainless steel and glass which allows the disk
      exposure to the atmosphere, but protects it from casual impact and
      abrasion. With minimal care, it could easily last and be legible for
      thousands of years.” See a rendition of version 1 here: http://rosettaproject.org/disk/interactive/.

      If my memory serves it does contain the entire Koran in Arabic. That said I doubt this would pacify the Taliban.  Extreme fundamentalists generally have no tolerance for coexistence with other viewpoints. Concentrated attack from inimical humans may well be the clock’s greatest threat. Still from what I’ve read I think these projects have the best protection possible from ourselves, better than anything we’ve created thus far anyway.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      The Taliban will likely be gone in one generation. Islam as a whole will eventually undergo its own reformation. But it would be a good idea to have the major religions of the world “bless” the Clock.

  • Aeronfour

    Why do we need a clock that will tick for 10,000 years buried inside a mountain where people can not see it or appreciate its design?  Out of sight out of mind!

    Aeronfour

  • Interruption Nico

    Time after time!

  • Sidney Mends

    It,s quite interesting to still have a feel of such a clock.I am just hoping humans are not regularly allowed to tour it either than that the expected time (YEARS) of the clock would eventually depreciate

  • AquarianEye

    This is a terrible idea on so many levels, the first being….hasn’t the earth accommodated being ravaged for enough reasons? And then there’s the interference with the heartbeat of the earth – her vibration – her beat. Total invasion and manipulation. given the big money bags and scientist behind this – I doubt the motives being communicated are true. And what is up with the adoration of time? Clocks are a mechanistic, militaristic, obedience producing apparatus that gave birth to the current robotic american way of life that is now destroying families and life on earth. why not take all that money and ingenuity and do something that doesn’t further entrench outdated ideas such as ticking time and that doesn’t further damage earth.

    • Kevin_Kelly

      There are more families and more life on earth than ever, especially since clocks have been invented.

  • Artfromtheheart

    What an endeavor –filled with awe and inspiration for the larger breadth of humankind and civilization…To create a vehicle for us and future generations to think about what small impact each of us plays in the larger constellation of the ongoing and ever-changing web of life!  I salute the minds and facilitators of this project and all who ponder its implications!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mark.p.gray Mark Preston Gray

    Incredible. Not at all surprising coming from Stewart Brand, of Whole Earth Catalogue fame. This is the ultimate gesture from the generation that set out to change the world in the 60s – hippies, Earth Day and the rest. Indeed, are we being good ancestors!

  • M. A. Bhura

    Considering the age of the universe, this clock would be considered as a recently manufactured item in the unlikely event of this Planet remaining intact up to the intended period.  It depends, besides nature’s forces, on man-made disaster like world’s nuclear arsenal being detonated by one or more nations on Earth intentionally and/or accidentally.
     
    Scientists are trying to fathom unfathomable universe.  That is O.K. as Rajeeve said:
        
           “Lot of people will question as to why they are doing this. But then to each his won. You          are free to pursue your interests.”
     
    I have not been able to grasp the ultimate benefit for mankind on this planet through such enterprise. Nevertheless, it is much better and harmless than inventing the WMD. You are right, Rajeeve; ‘you are free to pursue your interest’.

  • Chir

    Never last.  Some moron will destroy it within a hundred years of its starting.

  • Source40

    I love
    this project and the underlying philosophy. It is all inspiring. But as an
    archaeologist who has seen how the past is consistently destroyed over time, I
    would suggest that there be no free access to the interior and that the door be
    very effectively disguised instead of making it out of gorgeous jade and metal. Every site in the region where I work has been thoroughly plundered of
    all useable or attractive materials, with even common field stone scavenged
    from rudimentary house platforms.  In a dark future, the clock mechanism would be a veritable mine for esteemed non-rusting steel and other materials.

  • ranch hand

    In 10000years people will be saying that the world is going to end because that is how long the clock is going to last . Just like they are now because the Mayan calender is running out. Better put an explanation on it!

  • Justus_edward

    Since you are involved in a clock makeing for future ,then why not make a machine which will give us unlimited elctic power so we can cut out the utlity companies. And a machine to clean salt water to make fresh water. Or a fuel for water cars. Or perhaps make a car that flys to cut out roads.

  • J Omari

    I think this is great!

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  • http://billslater.com/bp William Slater

    I have  admired Stewart Brand and this Clock of the Long Now Project for quite a while.  I am very happy that Jeff Bezos is now a big supporter.  I really like their collective ambition and wish them all great and lasting success.  Remain “clock-sure”, my friends!

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  • Larry E

    A monument to time or to founder egos?
    Nature already models the slow and steady passage of time.
    If our long-term thinking is about beating up nature (boring out a mountain) to put in a human artifact, and patting ourselves on the back all along the way,
    instead of putting the money and genius to address, say, climate change or water shortage or put food on peoples’ tables or stop humans from beating up nature, we’re doomed! Come on Long Now Foundation. where’s the courage to stand up to your peers and question this project?

  • Don’t be silly

    Actually, Christianity only makes up 1/3 of the world’s population. I think it’s safe to assume they would be the minority.