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Peter Schwartz Seminar Primer

Posted on Thursday, September 5th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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“The Starships ARE Coming”

Tuesday September 17, 02013 at SFJAZZ Center, San Francisco

Peter Schwartz likes taking a long view. He’s a founding board member of The Long Now Foundation and in his career as a scenario planner he’s at the forefront of futurist thought, known for his book, The Art of the Long View, a canonical text of thinking long-term, and for founding the Global Business Network, a strategic planning consulting firm. In a Long Now SALT in 02008 he debated historian Niall Ferguson about the potential for human progress, arguing strongly for the importance of optimism. “Optimism” he concluded, “lets you imagine how you can overcome problems, and those possibilities motivate change.”

Schwartz’s long view has, in the last few years, begun to extend well off-planet, past Mars and the asteroid belt, and even beyond the Oort Cloud – in a Long Now event in 02010, he asked NASA Ames Research Center Director, Pete Worden about the possibility of starships that might take humans out of our own solar system. In response, Worden announced that NASA and DARPA had just begun a program to fund realistic, scientific research into the prospects of what they were calling 100-year starships:

Long Conversation – Pete Worden Announces 100-Year Starship from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.

Since then, thinking and planning for interstellar travel has snowballed. The inaugural 100 Year Starship Symposium was held in 02011, with a second in 02012 and the third later this month. Each event has gathered dozens of papers seeking to collectively establish a rough sketch of the technological, physical and social engineering interstellar travel will require.

Starship Century is an anthology just released (and on sale at the upcoming lecture) that features writing by Peter Schwartz, Stephen Hawking, Martin Rees, Neal Stephenson and many others on the existential necessity, the voluminous challenges, and the unprecedented promise of travelling to the stars.

Peter Schwartz has applied a bit of his world-renowned scenario planning to the possibility of starships and he brings our interstellar future into view on September 17th at SFJAZZ Center. You can reserve tickets, get directions and sign up for the podcast on the Seminar page.

Daniel Kahneman Seminar Media

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Thinking Fast and Slow

Tuesday August 13, 02013 – San Francisco


Video is up on the Kahneman Seminar page for Members.


Audio is up on the Kahneman Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


On taking thought – a summary by Stewart Brand

Before a packed house, Kahneman began with the distinction between what he calls mental “System 1”—fast thinking, intuition—and “System 2”—slow thinking, careful consideration and calculation. System 1 operates on the illusory principle: What you see is all there is. System 2 studies the larger context. System 1 works fast (hence its value) but it is unaware of its own process. Conclusions come to you without any awareness of how they were arrived at. System 2 processes are self-aware, but they are lazy and would prefer to defer to the quick convenience of System 1.

“Fast thinking,” he said, “is something that happens to you. Slow thinking is something you do.“

System 2 is effortful The self-control it requires can be depleted by fatigue. Research has shown that when you are tired it is much harder to perform a task such as keeping seven digits in mind while solving a mental puzzle, and you are more impulsive (I’ll have some chocolate cake!). You are readier to default to System 1.

“The world in System 1 is a lot simpler than the real world,” Kahneman said, because it craves coherence and builds simplistic stories. “If you don’t like Obama’s politics, you think he has big ears.” System 1 is blind to statistics and focuses on the particular rather than the general: “People are more afraid of dying in a terrorist incident than they are of dying.”

When faced with a hard question such as, “Should I hire this person?” we convert it to an easier question: “Do I like this person?“ (System 1 is good at predicting likeability.) The suggested answer pops up, we endorse it, and believe it. And we wind up with someone affable and wrong for the job.

The needed trick is knowing when to distrust the easy first answer and bear down on serious research and thought. Organizations can manage that trick by requiring certain protocols and checklists that invoke System 2 analysis. Individual professionals (athletes, firefighters, pilots) often use training to make their System 1 intuition extremely expert in acting swiftly on a wider range of signals and options than amateurs can handle. It is a case of System 2 training System 1 to act in restricted circumstances with System 2 thoroughness at System 1 speed. It takes years to do well.

Technology can help, the way a heads-up display makes it possible for pilots to notice what is most important for them to act on even in an emergency. The Web can help, Kahneman suggested in answer to a question from the audience, because it makes research so easy. “Looking things up exposes you to alternatives. This is a profound change.”

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Craig Childs Seminar Media

Posted on Monday, August 19th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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This lecture was presented as part of The Long Now Foundation’s monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking.

Apocalyptic Planet: Field Guide to the Everending Earth

Monday July 29, 02013 – San Francisco

Video is up on the Childs Seminar page for Members.


Audio is up on the Childs Seminar page, or you can subscribe to our podcast.


How the world keeps ending – a summary by Stewart Brand

“This Earth is a story teller,” Childs began. “And it is not a stable place to live. It is always ending. We think of endings as sudden, but it is always a process.”

For his book Apocalyptic Planet he sought out some of the world’s most terminal-feeling places, where everything is reduced to fundamental elements in total upheaval or total stasis, and a visitor is overwhelmed by the scale and power of a planet going about its planetary business.

In Yosemite Valley, where Childs was the day before he spoke in San Francisco, everyone is awed by the results of massive glacial action. In a sense Yosemite is the future of where he had been the previous week— a part of Alaska where the ice is 1,000 feet thick, with mountain peaks just visible above the glacial carving. Still further in the past is a classic end-of-the-world—an Ice Age. Childs sampled what that is like with an extended stay on the Greenland ice cap, where all there is for hundreds of miles is ice, sky, and wind. And numbing cold. The ice is 5,000 feet thick, moving under his camp at 1 foot a day, eventually calving off into enormous icebergs.

He was in Greenland with a chaos scientist studying climate change, who noted that complex systems like climate sometimes change suddenly, and that’s when you can’t predict what will happen next.

“I would like to backpack on Mars,” said Childs. For the local equivalent he hiked across the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, where it never rains. It’s been a desert for 150 million years. You walk across nothing but salt so hard it pings like steel. The sun blasts you all day and at night the water in your pack freezes solid. “You walk for days and you don’t see a single living thing, you’re on a dead planet, and then it gets really strange because pink flamingoes come flying in over your head. They’re there to strain brine shrimp out of water sources. You’re at the end of the world and there are flamingoes! You think, ‘Yeah, that’s what this planet is about.’”

To experience a world without biodiversity he hiked for days in cornfields in Iowa, where 90 percent of the state is monocrop corn and soybeans. Yet it took just two years for tallgrass prairie to be re-established in a site where corn growing was stopped.

In the lava fields of Hawaii he got a sense of planetary beginnings when the magma escapes, flowing like liquid incandescent metal, and everything starts over. Life is reseeded from what are called kipukas, bits of forest missed by the lava. Plunging into some new forest densely regrown on recent lava, he was instantly lost, buried in an orgy of jungle vegetation, no animals yet, and he realized that “The force of the living is more cunning than any devastation, ready to explode on whatever it touches.”

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Peter Schwartz Seminar Tickets

Posted on Monday, August 19th, 02013 by Austin Brown
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The Long Now Foundation’s monthly

Seminars About Long-term Thinking

Peter Schwartz presents The Starships ARE Coming

Peter Schwartz presents “The Starships ARE Coming”


Tuesday September 17, 02013 at 7:30pm SFJAZZ

Long Now Members can reserve 2 seats, join today! General Tickets $15

About this Seminar:

There is an appalling distance between here and the countless planets we’re discovering around stars other than our Sun. At first glance we can never span those light years. At second glance however…

“The 100-year Starship” is the name of now-culminating project that mustered a handful of scientists and science fiction writers to contemplate how humanity might, over the coming century, realistically develop the ability to escape our Solar System and travel the light years to others.

Participants included scientists such as Freeman Dyson and Martin Rees and writers such as Gregory Benford and Neal Stephenson. The professional futurist in the group was Peter Schwartz, who contributed scenarios playing out four futures of starship ambitions. To his surprise, exploring the scenarios suggested that getting effective star travel over the coming century or two is not a long shot. Even by widely divergent paths, it looks like a near certainty.

Schwartz’s SALT talk will report on the exciting work by the 19 participants and spell out the logics of his scenarios. The new book from the project, Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon, will be available at the event.

Daniel Kahneman Seminar Primer

Posted on Tuesday, August 6th, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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“Thinking Fast and Slow”

Tuesday August 13, 02013 at the Marines Memorial Theater, San Francisco

Daniel Kahneman is one of the world’s foremost psychologist. Back in the early 1970s, Kahneman and his research partner, Amos Tversky, “set out to dismantle an entity long dear to economic theorists: that arch-rational decision maker known as Homo economicus”. Their research led to a new compendium of human error and bias, and formed a new field called “prospect theory“, for which the duo won the Nobel Prize in economics in 2002.

In his 2011 book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, Kahneman summarizes decades of his research in behavioral economics and breaks thought into two general categories, System 1 and System 2. System 1 is what we usually associate with intuition, immediate reaction, and fast thinking. The system has relative advantages and disadvantages–one can save time and energy by using this system, yet this system often falls victim to stereotyping, visceral reactions, and general biases. System 2 occupies the other end of the spectrum. When we are thinking using this system, we are retrieving information, questioning our first answer, and slowly honing in on a balanced and informed opinion.

Rather than take the easy route of disparaging “fast thinking” in favor of “slow thinking”, Kahneman is careful to show how each has their relative strengths. Even though System 2 is often superior to System 1 in thinking about complex issues, Kahneman points out that self-control is linked to the same cognitive resources used during slow thinking. To use but one example: during a study where some participants were asked to memorize seven numbers and then asked if they would like a “virtuous” fruit salad or “sinful” chocolate cake, the participants that were negotiating the cognitive load of memorizing the seven numbers were less likely to exhibit self-control and chose the cake. We each have a reservoir of self-control/decision power, and we use System 1 to offset decisions that needlessly drain this reservoir.


Daniel Kahneman goes beyond pop-psychology to explain how we actually think, the promise and peril of different types of thinking, and how to train your mind to recognize what type of thinking is needed. Part of Long Now’s mission is to make long-term thinking as automatic and common as short-term thinking is now. Part of that battle will be on a societal level, but another part of the battle will be within our own heads, and Kahneman provides a map to thinking in the long-term. To learn more about the cognitive biases that drive different types of thinking, come see Daniel Kahneman at Marines Memorial Theatre on Tuesday, August 13th.

Long Bets Table at WorldFuture2013

Posted on Friday, August 2nd, 02013 by Andrew Warner
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From July 19th- 21st in Chicago, the World Future Society hosted their annual conference, WorldFuture 2013. The conference had over 60 sessions, workshops, and special events over the course of two and a half days, including a keynote from former SALT speaker Nicholas Negroponte. Topics ranged from Artificial Intelligence and the future of education to gaming and politics.

This year, Long Now hosted a table on Long Bets. For the weekend, we waved the $50 prediction fee and gave conference guests the chance to make predictions for free. The table generated much interest and led to predictions on topics as diverse as urban farming and the future of libraries.

One of the keynote speakers and Long Now member, Ramez Naam, paid the table a visit and made two predictions, both of them concerning our environmental future:

“By 2020, across at least 25% of the continental US, the cost of new solar or wind will be lower than the cost of either new coal or new natural gas”

“The first ice-free Artic day (as defined by NSIDC) will occur by the end of 2020.”

Wendell Wallach, a bioethicist at Yale and presenter at the conference, made a controversial prediction concerning the timeline of fully autonomous cars:

“Neither the Google car nor any other fully autonomous car will be marketed to the general public by 2025”

To see the predictions from the conference and other recent predictions, visit the Long Bets site. If you find yourself in disagreement with any of the predictions, join the conversation by creating an account and challenging the prediction.

Salon nearing half way mark in funding…

Posted on Tuesday, July 23rd, 02013 by Mikl Em
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The Salon project is on the verge of hitting its half way point in funding!  If we get to $250k that means that we can start full on construction in August, and that everyone who donated for a bottle will unlock the whiskey option!

UPDATE: Thanks to Cameo Wood’s upgrade to the Manual for Civilization Level we have blown right through the $250k mark!  Whiskey option is now unlocked!

We just received confirmation that the Salon will be receiving a $25,000 gift from the Cordelia Corporation who will be sponsoring a shelf in the Library. This gift was directed by long time member and podcast listener Doug Ellis. This has put us within a few thousand dollars of our half way point of $250,000 which will let us get started on construction!

Many thanks to Doug and all our donors for helping us get here.  Next stop – $495k…

Long Now intro – sound by Brian Eno

Posted on Monday, July 22nd, 02013 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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Today we’re debuting a 10-second animated Long Now intro that will soon be seen at the start of all Long Now videos and clips. It’s a brief glimpse into parts of The 10,000 Year Clock in virtual form as you watch 20,000 years tick by. Sometimes the long-term can be contemplated in small increments…

It features sound by Brian Eno that uses recordings of the 10,000 Year Clock (in progress) and visuals taken directly from the clock design as well.

This intro video was conceived by Alexander Rose, James Anderson and Chris Baldwin. The sound is by Brian Eno with additional recordings and arrangement by Chris Baldwin which includes sounds from the workings of the 10,000 Year Clock. The animation was created by James Anderson using actual model geometry of parts used in the Clock. The animation is © The Long Now Foundation 02013 and the sound is © Opal Ltd., London 02013.

Brian Eno vists the Long Now Clock shop

We hope it is enjoyed by everyone who already knows about the Clock and will be a compelling clue for others to want to learn more. Thanks to James, Chris, Brian and everyone else who contributed to making this well-crafted representation of The Long Now Foundation.

Last week we announced that Brian Eno is designing the ambient sound for the Long Now Salon as well as a dedicated light-painting installation for the space.

Brian is a founding member of Long Now’s Board of Directors.

Photo of Brian Eno by Alexander Rose

The Long Now Foundation on Tumblr

Posted on Friday, July 19th, 02013 by Mikl Em
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Photo closeup of a prototype Geneva wheel by Raphael Varieras
Geneva wheel prototype photo by Raphael Varieras

We recently launched a Long Now Tumblr blog where you will find even more about Long Now and related topics. If you’re unfamiliar with Tumblr, you don’t need to join the service to read the blog, just follow the link. But if you are on Tumblr, please follow and share the posts you enjoy.

Our Tumblr will complement what we publish on this blog. We’ll share a lot of Long Now images, information about our projects, fundamentals of what we do and why, and a look back at some highlights from our past.

Every Friday on Tumblr we will share audio from a past Seminar About Long-term Thinking. Our decade-old speaking series is building a compelling body of ideas about long-term thinking. It is curated and hosted by Stewart Brand, Long Now’s co-founder and Board President.

Philip Tetlock, January 02007
Philip Tetlock (screen shot from high-res Seminar video available to Long Now members)

This week we’ve chosen Philip Tetlock’s January 02007 talk from the archives. The research he shares in Why Foxes Are Better Forecasters Than Hedgehogs explores the confidence of forecasters, and it’s timely to revisit as we approach Daniel Kahneman‘s Seminar, just a few weeks away. We’ll tell you more about the relation between Tetlock and Kahneman’s work in our Seminar primer post next week.

The Tetlock Seminar begins with a mention of Long Bets, Long Now’s forum for competitive and meaningful long-term predictions. A good chance to remind you that Long Now will have a Long Bets table at the WorldFuture 2013 conference this weekend in Chicago. If you are there, look for us. Come by the table and make a Long Bet prediction for free.

Brian Eno Designing Sound and Light Installations for The Interval at Long Now

Posted on Tuesday, July 16th, 02013 by Mikl Em
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Brian Eno visits the Long Now Clock workshop
Photo by Alexander Rose

In July of 02013 Brian Eno visited the Bay Area and saw the latest progress on the 10,000 Year Clock project. Clock designer Danny Hillis gave Brian a tour of the progress at the Long Now Clock assembly space (where these photos were taken.)

Brian and Danny in the Clock assembly space
Photo by Alexander Rose in July of 02013

Brian Eno confirmed on this visit that he is designing the ambient sound for The Interval at Long Now as well as a dedicated light-painting installation for the space. We are thrilled that Brian will be creating these one-of-a-kind works for our new venue. The Interval is intended to be a place that inspires conversations, and Brian’s sound and lightscape designs will be key elements to creating that atmosphere.

After rising to fame in the British pop music scene of the early 1970′s with Roxy Music and a series of acclaimed solo albums, Brian Eno made his mark as a producer working with such artists as David Bowie, the Talking Heads, U2, Coldplay and many more. Along the way he coined the term “Ambient Music” and made the recordings that eventually defined the genre.

In recent years he has increasingly focused on generative sound and visual art. His 77 Million Paintings software creates a slow, constantly evolving series of light-paintings with an ever-changing ambient sound and lightscape. Brian has released this type of algorithmically-driven digital work both as mobile apps and projected to monumental scale on the sails of the Sydney Opera House (below).

Luminous/Lighting the Sails
“Luminous/Lighting the Sails” photo by Paul Benjamin

Brian was amongst the first people with whom Danny Hillis discussed his idea to design a clock that would run for 10,000 years. The Clock and the process of building it are intended as an inspiring example of long-term thinking. From Danny’s 01995 article in Wired, announcing “The Millennium Clock”:

When I tell my friends about the millennium clock, either they get it or they don’t. Most of them assume I’m not serious, or if I am, I must be having a midlife crisis. (That’s nice, Danny, but why can’t you just write a computer program to do the same thing? Or, Maybe you should start another company instead.) My friends who get it all have ideas that focus on a particular aspect of the clock. My engineering friends worry about the power source: solar, water, nuclear, geothermal, diffusion, or tidal? My entrepreneurial friends muse about how to make it financially self-sustaining. My writer friend, Stewart Brand, starts thinking about the organization that will take care of the clock. It’s a Rorschach test – of time. Peter Gabriel, the musician, thinks the clock should be alive, like a garden, counting the seasons with short-lived flowers, counting the years with sequoias and bristlecone pines. Artist Brian Eno felt it should have a name, so he gave it one: The Clock of the Long Now.

After giving the Clock its name, Brian joined the Board of Directors of Long Now when it was founded as a non-profit in 01996. He continues to serve on our board, and we thank him for his generosity in also creating art specifically for this new project.

Brian Eno visits the Long Now Clock assembly shop
Photo by Alexander Rose

This will be the first sound and light installation of its kind that Brian has created in America.

The sooner we finish this project the sooner we can all enjoy Brian’s art in its new Bay Area home. We can’t wait, and we’d love for you to help us build it.

Our thanks to everyone who has supported the project so far. It’s not too late to donate and enjoy the benefits of being a charter donor like invites to pre-opening parties.