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.”

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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Once you arrive, you’ll have to step through a “series of tunnels and chambers” where they’ve basically bored a hole in the side of the mountain. From there, you’ll enter five room-sized “anniversary” chambers, one each for the one-year, 10-year, 100-year, 1,000-year and 10,000-year anniversaries. Kind of spooky-sounding, but kind of awesome-sounding, too. They’re even building a special orrery (a mechanical model of the solar system) in the one-year anniversary room that the clock will activate one year after it goes live, at “solar noon.”

What about the 100-, 1,000- and 10,000-year chambers? Bezos says they’re planning to “leave those to future generations.” He adds that they’re still working on an idea to animate the 10-year chamber.

And it sounds like they’re approaching the finish line for building the clock itself. Bezos says the clock’s final design and engineering is just about complete, and that “fabrication of the full-size Clock parts has begun.”

So what’s the clock’s end date? 12,011? Give or take. We’re still some years away from its activation date, looks like, but then what’s a few years when you’re predicting in thousands?

MORE: How To: Recycle Your Old Gadgets

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