For the next twelve months, the first prototype of the Clock of the Long Now will be on display at the Deutsches Museum in Munich, Germany. It forms part of their Welcome to the Anthropocene exhibit – an interactive and multidisciplinary museum experience meant to prompt reflection and discussion about the notion of a ‘human era’.
“Spanning 1400 m2, the world’s first large exhibit on this important issue of the future reviews and surveys the concept of the Anthropocene through an analysis of such themes as urbanism, mobility, nature, evolution, nutrition, and human-machine interaction. The exhibit visualizes the history, present, and future of this human era, intersecting technology and the physical sciences with art and media. Historical exhibits guide us along our way through the Anthropocene, recent scientific discoveries and projects present challenges and potential solutions, and artistic design encourage contemplation.”
This is the first time the Prototype has left London’s Science Museum since it was installed there, and the first time the prototype is on display in continental Europe. To learn more, you can explore the exhibit’s English-language catalog, German-language website, or take a virtual tour. Originally scheduled to run until January, the exhibit has already been extended to September 02016, and can be visited any time during museum opening hours, daily from 9 AM and 5 PM local time.
On Thursday, September 17th, Alexander Rose (Executive Director of Long Now) will give a talk on how to design for 10,000 years, including how he approached many of the unique design challenges of The Clock.
The Big Here video documenting a drive from San Francisco to Mount Washington in eastern Nevada was made in 02009 and shown as a Long Short before Stewart Brand’s Rethinking Green SALT talk. We showed it again this week at The Great Basin in the Anthropocene talk by Scotty Strachan at The Interval. That event focused on the larger region that includes Mount Washington.
The mount Washington site was originally purchased as a potential site for a monument scale 10,000 Year Clock to act as an icon to long-term thinking. The first of these Clocks is now underway in Texas (see longnow.org/clock/ for more details), and Long Now remains involved in this fascinating, important region of eastern Nevada.
Our Mount Washington property is home to the largest population of bristlecone pines on private land. Bristlecones, amongst the oldest living things on Earth, are a symbol of The Long Now. And Long Now is working with scientists, like Scotty Strachan, at University of Nevada, Reno to study these bristlecones for insights into the last 10,000 years of climate amongst other research efforts.
Photo of Mount Washington by Scotty Strachan
This Tuesday a very special event begins our 02015 series of salon talks at The Interval in San Francisco. The Great Basin in the Anthropocene on January 6 will be a night full of science, natural beauty, and Long Now lore.
Scotty Strachan will talk about the natural history of the Great Basin Region. Scotty’s scientific research includes study of the climate and hydrology of the area as well as tree-ring analysis of bristlecone pines. This work has been conducted throughout the region including on Long Now’s property on Mount Washington in Nevada. Alexander Rose, Long Now’s Executive Director, will give a special introduction about Long Now’s history and connection with the area. You can purchase tickets here while they last.
In Stewart Brand’s 02004 TED talk (full video below), he tells some of the story of Long Now’s Mount Washington. It’s a talk Stewart called “How Mountains Teach”.
In 02004 we were considering the mountain as the initial site for the 10,000 Year Clock. And while we are currently building in Texas, we remain committed to this fascinating, important area. Long Now’s property features the largest group of bristlecone pines on private land. Bristlecones are amongst the oldest living things on the planet and are a symbol of The Long Now.
If you go up on top of those cliffs, that’s some of the Long Now land in those trees. And if you go up there and look back, then you’ll get a sense of what the view starts to be like from the top of the mountain. That’s the long view. That’s 80 miles to the horizon. And that’s also timberline and those bristlecones really are shrubs. That’s a different place to be. It’s 11,400 feet and it’s exquisite.
This talk is a great introduction not only to Mt. Washington, but also to the entire Great Basin region. Alexander’s introduction before Scotty’s talk will revisit the story of Long Now’s purchase of the land, and talk about why it means so much to our organization.
Scotty is also a talented photographer. While conducting field research in the mountains and valleys of eastern Nevada, he also takes the time to document the natural beauty of the area. We are thrilled to share dozens of Scotty’s photographs not only during his talk but on video screens at The Interval leading up to and following his talk. Below are just a few examples of Scotty’s work. Tickets and more information about the talk are here.
photos by Kelly Ida Scope
In January 02014 Brian Eno and Danny Hillis, co-founders of The Long Now Foundation, spoke about The Long Now, now in our Seminars About Long-term Thinking series. Long Now’s third co-founder, Stewart Brand, joined them onstage for the second part of the talk.
Leaving the planet, singing, religion, drugs, sex, and parenting are all touched on in their wide-ranging and humor-filled discussion. There’s much about the 10,000 Year Clock project, of course, including details about how The Clock’s chime generator will work. And, fittingly, they discuss the notion of art as conversation.
Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is free for all to view. The Long Now, now is a recent SALT talk, free for public viewing until Februray 02015. Listen to SALT audio free on our Seminar pages and via podcast. Long Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD.
From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):
Hillis talked about the long-term stories we live by and how our expectations of the future shape the future, such as our hopes about space travel. Eno said that Mars is too difficult to live on, so what’s the point, and Hillis said, “That’s short-term thinking. There are three big game-changers going on: globalization, computers, and synthetic biology. (If I were a grad student now, I wouldn’t study computer science, I’d study synthetic biology.) I probably wouldn’t want to live on Mars in this body, but I could imagine adapting myself so I would want to live on Mars. To me it’s pretty inevitable that Earth is just our starting point.”
Danny Hillis is an inventor, scientist, author, and engineer. He pioneered the concept of parallel computers that is now the basis for most supercomputers, as well as the RAID disk array technology used to store large databases. He holds over 100 U.S. patents, covering parallel computers, disk arrays, forgery prevention methods, and various electronic and mechanical devices. Danny Hillis is also the designer of Long Now’s 10,000-year Clock.
Brian Eno is a composer, producer and visual artist. He was a founding member of Roxy Music and has produced albums for such groundbreaking artists as David Bowie, The Talking Heads and U2. He is credited with coining the term “Ambient Music” and making some of the definitive recordings in that genre. In recent years he has focused on generative art including numerous gallery installations and his Ambient Painting at The Interval at Long Now. His music is available for purchase at Enoshop.
The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. It is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.
Everyone can watch full video of the last 12 Long Now Seminars (including this Seminar video until February 02015). Long Now members can watch the full ten years of Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.
photos by Kelly Ida Scope
Last year I had the opportunity to give a talk and tour of the US Naval Observatory in Washington DC at the invitation of Demetrios Matsakis, the director of the U.S. Naval Observatory’s Time Service department. The Naval Observatory hosts the largest collection of precise frequency standards in the world, and uses them to, among other things, keep services like internet time and the global positioning system in your phone running correctly.
The US Naval Observatory keeps track of time and distance in what seems like obscure ways, but these signals are used for some of the most widely trusted and life-critical systems on the planet. The observatory uses a series of atomic clocks, ranging from hydrogen mazers to cesium fountain clocks, which are averaged into the time signals we all use in synchronizing internet servers and finding our way with the guidance of our phones. In fact GPS would not be possible without the highly accurate time signals generated by the observatory, as time very literally equals distance when you are a satellite flying overhead at speeds that actually have to account for Einsteinian relativity.
The humble rack servers pumping out one of the most accurate and life-critical time signals in the world
The Naval Observatory is also part of the larger network in the US that includes NIST and several labs around the world that contribute to the international standards of time like Universal Coordinated Time or UTC. These time standards are defined in collaboration: many of the world’s national labs send in how long a second lasts based on their clocks, and these seconds are then averaged to define the second for the month. But ironically, they do this in retrospect and sometimes add leap seconds, so they only know what the ‘second’ was last month, not this month.
I am often asked when explaining the 10,000 Year Clock why we do not use an atomic clock, as they are often reported to be accurate to “one second in 30 million years”. But this does not mean they will last 30 million years; it is just a way to explain an accuracy of 10-9 seconds in everyday terms. These atomic clocks are extremely fragile and fussy machines that require very exact temperatures and deep understanding of atomic science in order to even read them. They sometimes only last a few years.
Demetrios was also able to tell me more about some of the long-term timing issues that affect The 10,000 Year Clock. Because the Clock synchronizes with the sun on any sunny day, one of the effects that we have to take into account is the rate at which the Earth’s rotational rate may change from millennium to millennium. It turns out that the earth’s rotation can be greatly affected by climate change. If the poles freeze in an ice age, and all the water freezes closer to the poles, the earth spins faster. If the current warming trend continues and the poles melt extensively, the mass of the water around the equator will slow the earth’s rotational rate. All these changes affect where the sun will appear in the sky, and since our clock uses the sun to synchronize, it is an effect we have to account for. While this was all known to us, there is a counter effect that Demetrios told me about. It turns out that when there is less water weighing down one of the tectonic plates of the earth, it rises up higher, counteracting some of the mass altered by the shift in water. We will be investigating this further to see if it changes our calculations.
Many thanks to Demetrios Matsakis for inviting me to the Naval Observatory, it was an honor to present to some of the most technical horologists in the world, and witness the place where the ephemerality of time is pinned down to just “one second in 30 million years”.
Late in the last millennium, Danny Hillis told a small group of friends about his idea for building a monument-scale clock that would last for 10,000 years. The group included Stewart Brand, Kevin Kelly, and Brian Eno – and the conversations that followed led to the founding of The Long Now Foundation in 01996. Ever since then, Long Now has worked to bring the Clock into reality.
Alexander Rose has been there almost from the start. The first employee of Long Now, he assisted Danny Hillis in early design work. Now he is the Foundation’s Executive Director and serves as the project manager for the full-sized Clock construction which is now underway in Texas. In his talk at The Interval he will discuss both the beginnings of the Clock project and where we are today.
The Clock has been built slowly, methodically, with a dedication to doing it right for the long term. And without a short-term deadline. The design process has been slow and painstaking. Our prototypes are built from the highest-quality materials and feature hand-crafted custom work. Our durability testing approximates the wear of slow moving mechanisms running for thousands of years.
Tickets are still available but space is limited and this talk will sell out
This talk will also include the lessons that Long Now’s team has learned from studying these previous millennial design projects. Alexander has travelled the world researching other projects designed to last for a thousand years or more. These include the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the Granite Mountain Records Vault built by the Mormon Church, and most recently Ise Grand Shrine in Japan.
Alexander Rose is Executive Director of The Long Now Foundation and project manager of the construction of the full-sized 10,000 Year Clock which is now underway in West Texas.
Alexander’s combat robots have won six world championship titles and appeared in the TV show BattleBots. Alexander has built large pyrotechnic displays for the Burning Man festival, robotic bartenders, and other dangerous machines. He is part of the Thiel Fellowship Network, and founded the Robot Fighting League.
One of the first things that visitors see when they walk into The Interval, Long Now’s new public space, is the Orrery–a prototype for part of the 10,000 Year Clock now under construction. The Orrery is a simplified mechanical model of our solar system, a precise and durable computer, and an eight-foot-tall kinetic sculpture.
This is our 21st century interpretation of an ancient device: the first record of a planetary model dates back two millennia. While the modern design, the direct ancestor of Long Now’s Orrery, was first built in England three centuries ago.
Our Orrery’s display features the six planets that can be seen with the naked eye (Mercury through Saturn). The “bit adder” gears below the planetary display each drives a planet. The prototype is designed to update each planet’s position twice a day, so this model of the solar system can show their positions in orbit around the Sun accurately.
A kinetic sculpture of the Long Now: Mercury completes one revolution in about 88 days; the Earth takes exactly one solar year; Saturn makes it around the Sun in just under thirty years. So in the time since this prototype was first completed in 02005, Saturn would have traveled only a third of its year.
Each of the Orrery’s planets is ground from a stone that resembles the actual celestial body:
Because we can look back and see that the way time has been measured throughout history has changed, it’s reasonable to imagine when looking forward that it will continue to change – our current use of hours, minutes, weeks and months may be as obscure and forgotten as the nundina, the akhet, or the gesh several millennia from now. The day, the year, and the movements of the other planets in our solar system, on the other hand, aren’t at the whim of the powers that be or of passing cultural trends. The 10,000 Year Clock, therefore, keeps track of these robust and durable units of time. The Clock’s main dial keeps track of the Sun, Moon and stars while The Orrery models our solar system.
Also robust and durable is The Orrery’s mechanical system for calculating the planets’ movements. A large and complicated gear system could do the job, but would wear down and lose accuracy over the millennia. To avoid this problem, Danny Hillis invented a device called a serial bit adder – a simple mechanical binary computer. The bit adders calculate how much to move the planets in the display based on the known input of two rotations per day by the Orrery’s central shaft. As that shaft rotates it also turns the 6 bit adder disks: one for each planet.
A bit adder consists of a rotating disk and two sets of 27mechanical pins. Each individual pin can be in one of two states and each set of pins taken altogether represents a 27 bit number. One set of pins is immovable – these are set based on the calculation that particular bit adder must perform; they are the program. The other set of pins can move between the two possible states; they represent an accumulator.
As the bit adder’s disk rotates, a portion of the disk reads the program from the unmoving bits and is moved by them. Its movements cause the other set of bits to be flipped as necessary. Each time the adder rotates, it adds the number encoded in the static pins into the number encoded by the moveable ones. That number is a fraction between zero and one. As the outer pins accumulate the value represented by the inner pins, their value grows towards one. When they surpass a value of one, the adder produces an output that adjusts its corresponding planet by way of engaging a 6-sided Geneva wheel. In this way, a precise ratio can be calculated based on the two daily rotations of the central shaft and applied to the planets in the display.
The crucial mathematical logic for the bit adders is represented in the positions of the pins, which can only ever be in one of two states even if they become significantly worn. This is a digital representation. Most traditional clocks, on the other hand, perform their mathematics in the orientation of gears around an axis. A gear measured this way can be in an infinite number of states. This is an analog representation. As the gear’s teeth become worn, its position can shift and slip, allowing inaccuracy to build up within the system over long periods of time.
The Orrery was conceptualized by Danny Hillis, with project management and additional design by Alexander Rose. Lead engineer was Paolo Salvagione, and lead machinist and fabricator was Christopher Rand. Other machinists include Erio Brown, Brian Roe, Mark Ribaud, Reason Bradley, General Precision, Oakland Machine Works, Jim Johnson, Brian Ford, Ebin Stromquist, and the base was fabricated by Seattle Solstice.
Almost a decade after its completion, the Orrery has become an iconic image for Long Now and a fixture of our public space. Many first visit The Interval because they notice the unusual 8-foot tall structure through our window, and they have to know more. For Long Now members and staff it’s an inspiring reminder of the full-scale Clock, whose Orrery will be four times the size of our prototype. In the future the Sun and six planets may be the first clue to a visitor to the Clock site as to the nature of the device they’ve just discovered.
And others are inspired to reproduce the Orrery themselves:
The Orrery is just one of many unique features of The Interval at Long Now. Come visit us and see the Orrery in person, have a delicious beverage, and enjoy all The Interval’s many pleasures. We are open 10AM to Midnight every day in San Francisco.
In October 02008 Edward Burtynsky spoke for Long Now on The 10,000-year Gallery. Burtynsky, an internationally-recognized photographer, presented his ideas for a gallery of images to accompany the Clock of the Long Now.
Burtynsky’s The 10,000-year Gallery talk includes a formal proposal for a permanent art gallery in the chamber that encloses the 10,000-year Clock as well as the results of his research into methods of capturing images that might have the best chance to survive in the long-term.
From Stewart Brand’s summary of this Seminar (in full here):
On the stage Burtynsky showed a large carbon transfer print of one of his ultra-high resolution photographs. The color and detail were perfect. Accelerated studies show that the print could hang in someone’s living room for 500 years and show no loss of quality. Kept in the Clock’s mountain in archival conditions it would remain unchanged for 10,000 years. He said that making one print takes five days of work, costs $2,000, and only ten artisans in the world have the skill, at locations in Toronto, Seattle, and Cornwall.
Edward Burtynsky‘s photographs are collected in museums all over the world. He is known for his large-format photographs of industrial landscapes which include mining locations around the globe and the building of Three Gorges Dam in China. His work has been noted for beautiful images which are often at odds with their subject’s negative environmental impacts. In recent years his work has focused on water including oil spills around the world.
The Seminars About Long-term Thinking series began in 02003 and is presented each month live in San Francisco. The series is curated and hosted by Long Now’s President Stewart Brand. Seminar audio is available to all via podcast.
Ideas about Long-term Thinking
The Long Now Foundation was established to creatively foster long-term thinking and responsibility in the framework of the next 10,000 years. More navigaterightBecome a Member