Blog Archive for the ‘Events’ Category

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Live audio stream for John Markoff at The Interval on September 29, 02015

Posted on Monday, September 28th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Long Now members can tune in for a live audio simulcast of this sold out event starting at 7:15 PT, September 29

Veteran technology writer John Markoff speaks in Long Now’s “Conversations at The Interval” series this Tuesday. He will discuss his new book Machines of Loving Grace: The Quest for Common Ground Between Humans and Robots which covers the birth of artificial intelligence in the 1950s all the way up to the consumer and industrial robotics innovations of today. Long Now’s Paul Saffo will interviewed Markoff onstage.

John Markoff at The Interval, September 29, 02015

Tickets to this talk sold out very quickly, as our Interval events often do. Due to the huge interest in this event, Long Now will be live audio-streaming Tuesday’s talk for members.

You can join Long Now for just $8/month which includes tickets to Seminars, HD video of 12 years of Long Now talks, and many other benefits.

Current Long Now members, just login on the member site. The stream will begin at 7:15pm Pacific.

Machines of Loving Grace is the first comprehensive study to place [robots] in the context of the cloud-based intelligence

—George Dyson, author of Turing’s Cathedral: The Origins of the Digital Universe

In recent years, the pace of technological change has accelerated dramatically, posing an ethical quandary. If humans delegate decisions to machines, who will be responsible for the consequences? Drawing on his forty years covering the tech industry, Markoff conducted numerous interviews and extensive research to assemble this history and poise key questions about how we will cohabitate with our robotic creations.

Long Now members can tune in for a live audio simulcast at 7:15 PT on September 29

This will be the third time we have live streamed an Interval event. Due to our limited resources, it is not possible to do so for most talks. We do plan to release Interval talks as podcasts and video on the Long Now site (similarly to our Seminar series).

We also plan to stream the talk by Andy Weir author of The Martian which takes place at The Interval on October 27, 02015. Tickets will go on sale for that talk two weeks beforehand and we expect it will sell out quickly.

Andy Weir at The Interval, October 27, 02015

Long Now is looking for a major sponsor to fund the cost of producing the series to the standard of our Seminar media. We are also seeking a sponsor to support more regular streaming of Interval events. Sponsorship inquiries are welcome.

Long Now’s Laura Welcher Speaks in London on September 25, 02015

Posted on Friday, September 11th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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Long Now London Meetup
Friday, September 25, 02015
7:00 PM at Newspeak House
133-135 Bethnal Green Road, E2 7DG, London

Languages are works of art, great libraries, how-to guides for living on planet Earth, windows into our minds and inalienable human rights. The Rosetta Project is The Long Now Foundation’s first exploration into very long-term archiving. It serves as a means to focus attention on the problem of digital obsolescence, and ways we might address that problem through creative archival storage methods.

Laura’s talk, titled ‘”The Rosetta Project: Strategies for Very Long-term Archiving” will focus on the Rosetta project and her experience with building this at Long Now. If you are interested hearing Laura speak and meeting fellow long-term thinkers, please RSVP at the Meetup site here.

Neal Stephenson at The Interval: May 21, Book Signing and Livestream

Posted on Friday, May 1st, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Neal Stephenson at The Interval on May 21, 02015; photo by Kelly O'Connor

Neal Stephenson speaks at The Interval on May 21, 02015. Photo by Kelly O’Connor

Best-selling author Neal Stephenson will visit The Interval at Long Now in San Francisco to read from and sign his new book in a special daytime event: 12:30 to 2pm on Thursday May 21, 02015.

The talk itself is sold out but Long Now members can hear Neal live on May 21 via the Long Now member website. Neal is making two other appearances in the Bay Area, and we are thrilled that he is including The Interval in his tour.

You can join more than 6500 long-term thinkers around the world as a Long Now member

Signed copies of SEVENEVES can be pre-ordered to pick up the day of Neal’s reading. Book sales benefit Long Now and the Friends of the San Francisco Library. Pre-ordered books can be picked up at Readers Bookstore near The Interval. We will not be shipping books. More details here.

Neal Stephenson's SEVENEVES at The Interval on May 21, 02015

SEVENEVES comes out on May 19th. Here’s what Neal has to say about his new book:

SEVENEVES is a very old project; I first started thinking about it when I was working at Blue Origin, probably circa 2004. The kernel around which the story nucleated was the space debris problem, which I had been reading about, both as a potential obstacle to the company’s efforts and as a possible opportunity to do something useful in space by looking for ways to remediate it

You can read the beginning of SEVENEVES on Neal’s site.

Long Now’s co-founder Stewart Brand will host this event and talk with him onstage after the reading. Stewart Brand, Ryan Phelan, and Long Now’s Revive and Restore project are acknowledged by Neal for providing useful background for SEVENEVES.

This will be Neal Stephenson’s first visit to The Interval. We are honored that Neal was one of the earliest donors to our Interval ‘brickstarter’ as well. And we can’t wait to show him Long Now’s new home in San Francisco.


Here are some photos from the event…

Stewart Brand intros Neal Stephenson at The Interval Neal Stephenson and Stewart Brand onstage at The Interval Neal Stephenson talks about his latest book #SEVENEVES at The Interval Neal Stephenson and Stewart Brand onstage at The IntervalNeal Stephenson and Stewart Brand onstage at The Intervalphotos by SF Slim

Upcoming Events at The Interval with Stanford’s Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences

Posted on Monday, March 30th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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D. Fox Harrell speaks at The Interval in May
D. Fox Harrell, Ph.D. — photo by Bryce Vickmark

Long Now is pleased to announce a new collaboration with the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford University. Beginning in May, CASBS Fellows will appear regularly in our Conversations at The Interval series. The first two Fellows to speak will be D. Fox Harrell (MIT) on May 5, 02015 and Valentina Bosetti (Università Bocconi) on June 23. All upcoming Interval talks are listed here.

For over sixty years the Center has been a national and international locus for transformative thinking and research on the most important issues in social science. Their residential fellowship program attracts the finest scholars from psychology, sociology, economics, political science, anthropology, history, philosophy, linguistics, and related disciplines.

CASBS alumni include such renowned scholars as Kingsley Davis, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Wallace Stegner. CASBS Fellows have been recognized through the years with an impressive list of honors including 22 Nobel Prizes, 14 Pulitzers, 44 MacArthur Fellowships, and 20 National Book Awards, to mention only a few. Four previous Long Now SALT speakers have been Fellows at CASBS during their careers: Daniel Kahneman, Stephen Lansing, Paul Romer, and Philip Tetlock. Other notable alums include Henry Louis Gates Jr., Steven D. Levitt, Donald Norman, Norman Ornstein, and Edward Tufte.

D. Fox Harrell‘s talk is entitled Coding Ourselves/Coding Others: Imagining Social Identities Through Computing. In his talk at The Interval on May 5 he will discuss his studies of social networking, gaming, and virtual worlds; he’ll show examples of systems developed by his research group that are designed to enable creative expression, cultural analysis, and social empowerment.

Dr. Harrell is a tenured Associate Professor of Digital Media in the Comparative Media Studies Program and the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT. He founded and directs the MIT Imagination, Computation, and Expression Laboratory (ICE Lab).

Valentina Bosetti speaks at The Interval on June 23, 02015. Her talk entitled “Life’s a Great Balancing Act” will include her work on climate change risk and uncertainty, how individuals perceive them, and how they affect the climate change policy making process. She was recently awarded a European Research Council grant with the objective of substantially advancing the way we conceptualize, model and frame climate change policy making under uncertainty.

Valentina Bosetti at TEDx Milano 02012
Valentina Bosetti, Ph.D. — photo TEDxMilano

Dr. Bosetti is associate professor at Bocconi University where she teaches environmental and climate change economics. She was a lead author of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) about the state of scientific, technical and socio-economic knowledge on climate change. She is also a senior researcher at Fondazione Enrico Mattei and Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change.

The Ralph W. Tyler Collection at CASBS, Stanford University

Tyler collection books
Books from the Tyler Collection

In addition to talks by these and other CASBS Fellows, the Center’s director Margaret Levi will recommend a list of books for our Manual for Civilization. Her list will include selections from The Ralph W. Tyler Collection. The collection contains over 1,800 books written by CASBS Fellows since the program began in 01954. All the books in the collection were conceived, initiated or completed during the author’s fellowship.

The Ralph W. Tyler Collection at CASBS, Stanford University

photos by Mikl Em, unless otherwise noted

Tickets for Interval talks go on sale a few weeks beforehand. Long Now members and Interval donors always have the first chance to buy tickets for these events.

Lewis Dartnell at The Interval: How to Rebuild Our World From Scratch on March 24 02015

Posted on Saturday, March 21st, 02015 by Mikl Em
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The Knowledge paperback by Lewis Dartnell

Tuesday, March 24, 02015
Lewis Dartnell
(University of Leicester / European Space Agency)

The Knowledge: Rebuilding Our World From Scratch
at The Interval

Tickets on sale now
advanced tickets suggested

This Tuesday in San Francisco Long Now welcomes British astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell to our Conversations at The Interval series to discuss his latest book The Knowledge. This book is a guide to rebuilding key features of civilization like agriculture, communication, transportation and medicine in the aftermath of a global catastrophe.

The Knowledge will be on sale at the talk, and Lewis will sign books and chat more with the audience afterwards

Far from a doomsday prediction, Dartnell’s book reveals the potential resiliency of humanity if we approach challenges with an awareness of the natural sciences and understanding of how contemporary technology works. The Knowledge brings a lot of this fundamentally useful information into one place; and it’s bibliography points to deeper resources for a wide range of subjects. Lewis has previously shared his expertise with Long Now for our Manual for Civilization project.

The Knowledge is a fascinating look at the basic principles of the most important technologies undergirding modern society… full of optimism about human ingenuity”
  — The Wall Street Journal

The videos below show two examples of tips you’ll find in The Knowledge. The first draws on insights into how our world works today (manufacturing) to reveal an ideal solution. There are many ways to open a can, but this is probably the best. The second is more sophisticated: how to use a scavenged battery to drive electrolysis and isolate useful elements like oxygen and chlorine. That requires a better understanding of chemistry than you will get studying TV plotlines, but it’s mostly high school level science. And it hints that the best solutions actually create more tools to help us more rapidly recover.

Often Dartnell’s advice relies on a combination of scientific knowledge and scavenged resources. Both industrial detritus (a golf cart battery) and common household items (steel wool) are useful in resuscitating features of modern society. This kind of ingenuity is familiar in pop culture: television shows in particular from MacGyver to Breaking Bad feature protagonists whose expertise with the periodic table and access to a junkyard or various consumer packaged goods help save the day time after time. It’s the same principle: when the stakes are high we are capable of ingenuity, even if we aren’t geniuses.

We hope you can join us for Lewis Dartnell’s talk at The Interval on March 24, 02015

The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell hardcover

Long Now at Cal Academy Nightlife

Posted on Thursday, March 12th, 02015 by Andrew Warner
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On Thursday, March 19, 02015, Long Now will be participating in the California Academy of Sciences Nightlife event. The theme for the evening is “Time Capsule”, and Long Now executive director Alexander Rose will be giving a short talk in the African Hall. Long Now will also have a table with various artifacts from our projects that usually live behind glass.

The Nightlife series is an opportunity for adults to explore the California Academy of Sciences in the evening with cocktails, music, and themes that feature collaborations with local organizations. The event goes from 6pm to 10pm, tickets can be found here.


Richard Rhodes: Twilight of the Bombs — 02010 Seminar Flashback

Posted on Thursday, March 5th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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In September 02010 Richard Rhodes spoke about Twilight of the Bombs his history on nuclear weapons from the end of the Cold War to the 21st Century. Rhodes won the Pulitzer prize for The Making of the Atomic Bomb (01987) his first of four books chronicling the rise of nuclear science from the laboratory to the battlefield. Twilight of the Bombs is the final book of that series, covering an era of smaller arsenals but continuing challenges.

Richard Rhodes speaks about his latest book at The Interval on March 10, 02015

Long Now members can watch this video here. The audio is free for everyone on the Seminar page and via podcastLong Now members can see all Seminar videos in HD. Video of the 12 most recent Seminars is also free for all to view.

Rhodes warns of the devastating impact to the entire world of even a “regional” nuclear war between nations like India and Pakistan. He tells fascinating stories about Niels Bohr’s earnest warning to FDR and Churchill; the many close calls of the Cold War era that were never publicized; anecdotes about nations like South Africa, Libya, Iraq, and Sweden who all pursued or even built weapons to some degree; 10 steps for nuclear abolition; and his concern that the US may pose the biggest challenge to world disarmament.

From Stewart Brand’s summary of the talk (in full here):

How much did the Cold War cost everyone from 1948 to 1991, and how much of that was for nuclear weapons? The total cost has been estimated at $18.5 trillion, with $7.8 trillion for nuclear. At the peak the Soviet Union had 95,000 weapons and the US had 20 to 40,000. America’s current seriously degraded infrastructure would cost about $2.2 trillion to fix—all the gas lines and water lines and schools and bridges. We spent that money on bombs we never intended to use—all of the Cold War players, major and minor, told Rhodes that everyone knew that the bombs must not and could not be used.

Richard Rhodes is the author or editor of twenty-four books including The Making of the Atomic Bomb (Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner); Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb (shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize); and most recently Hell and Good Company (02015), a history of the Spanish Civil War. He has been a visiting scholar at Harvard and MIT and appeared on public television’s Frontline and American Experience series. His work is funded by the Ford Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation Program in International Peace and Security and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Tickets are available for Richard Rhodes talk at The Interval: March 10, 02015

Richard Rhodes at The Interval, March 02015
Richard Rhodes will speak at The Interval on March 10, 02015
photo by Catherine Borgeson

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 12 most recent Long Now Seminars. Long Now members can watch video of this Seminar video or more than ten years of previous Seminars in HD. Membership levels start at $8/month and include lots of benefits.

You can join Long Now here.

Richard Rhodes: Hell and Good Company @ The Interval— March 10, 02015

Posted on Tuesday, March 3rd, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Hell and Good Company: Richard Rhodes at The Interval

March 10, 02015
Richard Rhodes (Pulitzer Prize winning historian)
Hell and Good Company at The Interval

Tickets are on sale nowthese talks typically sell out

Our next event in the Conversations at The Interval features author Richard Rhodes discussing his new book Hell and Good Company: The Spanish Civil War and the World it Made. Richard Rhodes is a celebrated historian and journalist whose works give us valuable insights into our past and future.

In many ways a precursor, the Spanish Civil War spanned 01936 to 01939; it ended just months before World War II began. Many from around the world were inspired to join the Spanish Republican cause, to fight against the fascist forces of General Francisco Franco’s rebel “Nationalists.”

Hell and Good Company at The Interval

Rhodes’ book is not restricted to the battlefield. It includes the stories of remarkable individuals who were reporters, writers, artists, doctors, and nurses. Amidst the crucible of a civil war watched by the world, emerged innovations in military tactics & weapons and in medical treatments & technology. Great works of art also emerged including For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway and Pablo Picasso’s Guernica.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Long Now is thrilled to welcome such a distinguished author to our Conversations at The Interval series. We will have copies of Hell and Good Company and Richard will stay after his talk to sign books and chat with our audience.

Hell and Good Company (02015) by Richard Rhodes

Richard Rhodes won the Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction for The Making of the Atomic Bomb in 01988. His book Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb was shortlisted for a Pulitzer Prize in History. He spoke for Long Now in 02010 in a Seminar About Long-term Thinking entitled Twilight of the Bombs for the final of his four celebrated books on the history of nuclear weapons.

A visiting scholar at Harvard and MIT, Richard Rhodes has also contributed to Frontline and American Experience on PBS. His other works include four novels and the biography John James Audubon amongst his more than 20 books he has written or edited in total.

We hope you can join us for Richard Rhodes at The Interval on March 10, 02015

Keeping The Net’s Long Memory Stocked: Jason Scott @ The Interval— February 24, 02015

Posted on Wednesday, February 18th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Jason Scott of Archive Team and

February 24, 02015
Jason Scott (archivist, historian, filmmaker)
The Web in an Eyeblink at The Interval

Tickets are now on sale: space is limited and we expect this talk to sell out

If you are reading this then Jason Scott has probably backed up bits that matter to you–whether you are an ex-SysOp or only use the Web to read this blog. Jason works on no less than three important online archives, each of which is invaluable in preserving our digital history. He’s also made two documentaries about pre-Web networked-computer culture The BBS Documentary and Get Lamp.

Jason Scott with Internet Archive founder Brewster Kahle at ROFLCon Summit

Jason created in 01998 to make thousands of files once found on online bulletin board systems (BBSs) available again after they had become scarce in the era of the World Wide Web. He founded Archive Team in 02009 to rescue user data from popular sites that shut down with little notice; this loose collective has launched “Distributed Preservation of Service Attacks” to save content from Friendster, GeoCities and Google Reader amongst others. In 02011 Jason began curating the Internet Archive‘s software collection: the largest online library of vintage and historical software in the world.

Long Now welcomes Jason Scott to our Conversations at The Interval series:
“The Web in an Eye Blink” on Tuesday, February 24, 02015

The Internet is a network of networks that has the ability to bring the far reaches of the world closer, seemingly in real time. A Big Here in a short Now. But there’s a Long Now of the Internet also in that it connects us through time: a shared memory of readily accessible information. Accessible as long as the resource exists somewhere on the system. So the Internet should give worldwide access to our long memory, all the content we’ve ever put online, right? Unfortunately there are some challenges. But happily we have allies.

The network path to a specific document is a technological chain. And it can be a brittle one. The chain’s components include servers, cables, protocols, programming code, and even human decisions. If one connection in the chain fails–whether it’s the hardware, software, or just a hyperlink–the information becomes inaccessible. And perhaps it’s lost forever. This problem is an aspect of what we call the Digital Dark Age.

The Dilemma of Modern Media

The “High technology” industry is innovation/obsolescence driven by its nature; so new models and software updates often undermine that network-chain in the name of progress. But the tech industry’s competitive business environment causes another threat to our online memory. Mergers and acquisitions shift product offerings irregardless of customer sentiment, let alone the historical importance of a site or service. Users who have invested time and effort in creating content and customizing their accounts will often get little notice about a site’s impending demise. And it’s rare that companies provide tools or guidance to enable customers to preserve their own data. That’s why Jason started Archive Team: to save digital assets for users not empowered to do so themselves. Initially reactive they now keep a “Death Watch” to warn users and keep their own team alert ahead of time about sites that don’t look long for this world.

There is no FDIC for user data. Jason Scott and the Archive Team are all we’ve got.

Jason Scott at ROFLCon II -- Photo by Scott Beale photo by Scott Beale

Jason’s advice is to help ourselves. As he said about the strange case of

Assuming that your photographs, writing, email, or other data is important to you … you should always be looking for an export function or a way to save a local backup. If a company claims it’s too hard, they are lying. If they claim that they have everything under control, ignore that and demand your export and local backup again.

The broken link may be the most pernicious of the many breaks that can occur in the network chain. When a linked file is removed or renamed, even if it’s been available for years, all access is instantly cut off. The Wayback Machine, a database of 452 Billion previously downloaded web pages, is a solution to that problem and it’s the main feature of that most people use today.

But the Internet Archive is much more than a database of web pages. It is a non-profit library with an ever-growing collection of books, movies, software, music, and more is available online for free. The archive preserves and expands our collective memory. And Jason’s work with archiving vintage software is especially groundbreaking.

Thousands of computer and arcade games have been added to the Archive in the last year. Many games have been saved from complete extinction in the process. But Jason and team have done more than that. They have built a website on which this code can run, so that the games are playable again. They did it with JSMESS, Javascript code that can emulate nearly 1000 vintage computing and gaming platforms. So the fact that physical components once requisite for these programs to be accessed will never be manufactured again has ceased to be a limitation. Hardware (computers, gaming consoles, disk drives) is no longer, or much less of, a weak link in the technological chain.

And these games which ran on Apple II’s, TRS-80s, Atari 2600′s, etc, from the historically important and nostalgia-rich era of the 01980s and 01990s will now run in many 21st Century web browsers.

Which browsers? Maybe your browser. Can you see a black box below? If so click the button and you’ll have a chance to play Apple’s 01979 “Apple ][” game Lemonade Stand. Have fun. And be patient. Things were slower then.

You can thank Jason Scott for uploading this and thousands of other fun, useful, or just old pieces of software.

In fact, you can thank him in person when he speaks at The Interval at Long Now this Tuesday, February 24, 02015: “The Web in an Eye Blink”. Jason will talk about his work in the frame of the Long Now.

Get your tickets soon, we expect this talk to sell out.

See Andy Baio’s piece on Medium for more thoughts on Jason’s work and the implications of the Archive’s software collection.

Photos by Jason Scott unless otherwise noted

Pace Layer Thinkers: Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo’s Conversation at The Interval, Recap and Full Audio

Posted on Sunday, February 8th, 02015 by Mikl Em
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Stewart Brand talks Pace Layers Thinking at The Interval
Photo by Julie Momméja

Stewart Brand: Pace Layers Thinking at The Interval January 02015Paul Saffo: Pace Layers Thinking at The Interval, January 02015

On January 27, 02015 Long Now Foundation founding Board members Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo spoke at Long Now’s San Francisco venue The Interval about Pace Layers Thinking to a sold out crowd.

This was the 17th event in our Conversations at The Interval series since it began in May 02014. We informally call these “salon talks” due to their small size (relative to our SALT series) which allows our speakers and audience to meet and continue the discussion after the microphones are turned off.

It’s only the second time we’ve posted audio from an Interval talk. We’re proud to share this talk by two of our founding Board members.

Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo — photos by Ian Kennedy

Paul Saffo and Stewart Brand at The Interval, January 02015
Photo by Mikl Em

Stewart introduced pace layers in The Clock of Long Now (01999). In the book he credits Freeman Dyson and Brian Eno, amongst others, for influencing his thinking on intra-societal tiers that move at differing speeds. At The Interval he went deeper into the origins of the idea, citing the concept of “Shearing Layers” by architect Frank Duffy as a precursor to pace layers. Stewart featured Duffy’s idea in his 01994 book How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They’re Built.

Frank Duffy - Shearing Layers; Pace Layers at The Interval Jan 02015

The beginnings of the concept can be found in this excerpt from How Buildings Learn:

To change is to lose identity; yet to change is to be alive. Buildings partially resolve the paradox by offering the hierarchy of pace – you can fiddle with the Stuff and Space Plan all you want, while the Structure and Site remain solid and reliable.

How Buildings Learn was influential in surprising ways. It was embraced for its applicability to systems thinking and software design amongst other things. And pace layers continues to be utilized as a framework for understanding many different kinds of complex, overlapping systems. Here’s a recent example:

Pace Layers applied to software; Pace Layers at The Interval Jan 02015

Stewart shared an amazing artifact: a preliminary sketch of the pace layers diagram dating to December 01996. He drew it after discussions with Brian Eno. It includes a couple of the final edits which he mentions in his talk: the top layer was changed to Fashion from “Art”, at Eno’s insistence. And  “Government” is here annotated with “Governance” which it would become in the final version.

How to represent the Pace Layers - Stewart Brand and Brian Eno

In The Clock of the Long Now Stewart presents the diagram and lays out the pace layers concept in a 6-page chapter. He draws parallels to natural systems. He cites numerous sources that have informed his thinking. It’s remarkably efficient in presenting this idea, managing to be dense and readable at the same time.

While this Interval talk is a great introduction, if you are intrigued by pace layers then you should read the book. It is 200 pages long and is also a history of The Long Now Foundation and our signature project the 10,000 Year Clock. The book also features probably the most entertaining correspondence with the Interval Revenue Service that you will ever read.

In Pace Layers the relationship between layers is key to the health of the system. More specifically, as both Stewart and Paul point out, the conflicts caused by layers moving at different speeds actually keeps thing balanced and resilient. Paul calls this “constructive turbulence.” Stewart’s slide details how fast (upper) and slow (descending) layers interact.

Fast and Slow Layers contrasted; Pace Layers at The Interval Jan 02015

Paul Saffo teaches pace layers in his forecasting classes at Stanford. He compared the speed of change in Silicon Valley to the slow shifting of the San Andreas Fault below. In fact he sees the Valley as having its own particular ecosystem of pace layers forming a standing vortex (akin to the eye of Jupiter). For those of us here in the Bay Area: “We all live on von Kármán vortex street.”

Paul Saffo talks Pace Layers Thinking at The Interval

Paul called on a couple people in the audience to speak about how they use pace layers. Customer feedback, as it were. First up was Andrea Saveri who uses pace layers in futures education. For the 14 to 21 year-old students she works with, it provides a concrete way to think about time horizons, abstract thinking and the long-term future.

Peter Leyden was a colleague of Stewart’s at Global Business Network (GBN) around the time pace layers was published. Today, he noted, Culture and Nature are accelerating (driven by technology and climate change, respectively) but Governance isn’t responding. Even as the layers move below it, it’s not innovating.

Stewart had an answer for that. Look to cities and city-states (Singapore) which are less ideological and may be the change agents in Governance that are needed.

Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo talk Pace Layers Thinking at The Interval
Paul Saffo closed his presentation with another take on Earth’s pace layers: Anthros ( Bios ( Lithos ( Cosmos

“This is a data free document” Stewart replied to a data-specific audience question. And maybe that lack of hard data has aided its longevity and versatility. It’s a framework, a way to look at issues in a society; or it can be projected on other systems. The lines are not hard lines; borders between layers are turbulent zones “where the action is”. But it’s not tied to “facts” which may turn out to have expiration dates.

Pace layering from "The Clock of the Long Now" by Stewart Brand

Here’s how Stewart introduced pace layers back in 01999:

I propose six significant levels of pace and size in the working structure of a robust and adaptable civilization. [...] In a healthy society each level is allowed to operate at its own pace, safely sustained by the slower levels below and kept invigorated by the livelier levels above.

He put forward pace layers as an ideal model, knowing that no society made of humans will operate perfectly to plan. After a decade and a half of continued use, the model seems to have garnered overwhelmingly positive feedback. It continues to be a useful bridge to long-term thinking. Its conceptual outline has been applied successfully to many areas of human activity. Maybe we should no longer call it “an idea.” And call it wisdom instead.

Paul Saffo and Stewart Brand at The Interval, January 02015
Photo by Mikl Em

We hope you’ll listen to this talk in full and tell us what you think of the Conversations series. We’d like to make more audio and video of these events available in the future. Long Now is looking for grants and sponsorships to underwrite the production and distribution of these talks on a wider scale. Please let us know if you have ideas on that.

Conversations after Stewart Brand and Paul Saffo's Pace Layers Thinking at The IntervalPhotos by Julie Momméja unless otherwise noted
Thanks to Rhonda Evans (Monitor Institute) for her notes