Kevin Kelly

Kevin Kelly

Futurama Death Clock

Matt Groening, creator of the Simpsons and Futurama, once told me that he was inspired by my countdown clock, and wanted to use it in Futurama. In my version I found actuarial tables to calculate my average longevity and devised a countdown clock aimed at my roughly estimated day of death. Since I am not a regular watcher of the show I had never seen what happened to the idea.

A profile of Groening in Wired catches him as he plays with the idea, and you can see how he immediately spots the ridiculous and funny:

Back at Groening’s studio, he is talking up an idea he had for another episode inspired by Kevin Kelly’s death clock. Kelly recently calculated how much longer he had to live — he estimates around 23 years — and posted his own personal life countdown clock online. “I started thinking, wouldn’t it be cool if you had a death wristwatch?” Groening says.

He and Cohen bat around the story potential of the death wristwatch. Surely, by the year 3000, a gadget like that could recalculate the time of your death on the fly, beeping if you are in imminent danger of dying? They start toying with the concept: Wouldn’t it be funny if the death wristwatch were running fast? What if the battery died?

I only recently became aware that the death clock was ridiculous enough to make it to one episode of Futurama. The final version was a table clock.  You stick your finger into the hole on top and it reads out the exact time of your death. Apparently Professor Farnsworth invented the clock twice because of his senility.

225Px-Death Clock

Leela: Does it really work?

Professor: Well, it’s occasionally off by a few seconds, what with “free will” and all.

Fry: Sounds like fun. How long do I have to live? [jabs finger into the machine]

[The Death Clock dings and the professor whistles]

Bender: Ooh! Dibbs on his CD player!

My own countdown death clock is a web app and desktop widget. It’s the first thing I see on my computer. I take it pretty seriously. Right now my clock reads 7,853 days left.


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