Need a Clock That’ll Run for 10,000 Years?

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Yes, someone’s actually building an honest-to-goodness 10,000-year clock, or a clock that’ll run for 10,000 years. If you’re a Neal Stephenson fan (like me) and you’ve read his last novel, Anathem—in which a group of cloistered monks tend an ornate millennial clock—you already know about the actual clock. It’s been around for some time, and somewhat poetically referred to as the “Clock of the Long Now.” In fact my Advance Reader’s Copy copy of Anathem has a CD with experimental vocal music by David Stutz composed for the story, and whose proceeds all went to the Clock of the Long Now Project.

Why a clock that’ll run for the next 100 centuries? Because we can, sounds like. It already exists as a work-in-progress, soon to be assembled inside a mountain in West Texas—the Sierra Diablo mountain range to be specific. And the whole thing was dreamed up by investor Danny Hillis back in 1989.

(PHOTOS: Gadgets: Then and Now)

“I want to build a clock that ticks once a year,” said Hillis in 1995. “The century hand advances once every one hundred years, and the cuckoo comes out on the millennium. I want the cuckoo to come out every millennium for the next 10,000 years. If I hurry I should finish the clock in time to see the cuckoo come out for the first time.”

The face of the Clock of the Long Now. Image: Long Now

About six years ago, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos got involved. On one of the clock’s websites, Bezos writes of the clock’s raison d’etre:

As I see it, humans are now technologically advanced enough that we can create not only extraordinary wonders but also civilization-scale problems. We’re likely to need more long-term thinking.

Bezos says just getting to the clock will take devotion: “The nearest airport is several hours away by car, and the foot trail to the Clock is rugged, rising almost 2,000 feet above the valley floor.” And then you’ll have to make your way into the hall of the mountain clock (see what I did there?) itself.

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