A parallel Worlds

Monday September 8 2008 / Science & Technology - Horology

The idea to build a monument scale, multi-millennial, all mechanical clock as an icon to long term thinking came from computer scientist Danny Hillis in 01995 (that's not a typo).

Hillis reasoned that by actually building a remote monument, the discussions around long term thinking would be far more focused. And it would lend itself to good storytelling and myth, both essential requirements of anything lasting a long time.

In 01996 a group of friends led by Stewart Brand incorporated a non profit around the idea of long term thinking and responsibility. This group became the founding board of The Long Now Foundation. One of the members, Peter Schwartz, suggested that 10,000 years be the time frame, as it was about how long humans have had a stable climate and technological progression.

Long Now prototype in building

Danny Hillis began to design the first prototype of the 10,000 Year Clock. This prototype was completed in 01999 on New Year's Eve, where it bonged very slowly... twice. This prototype is now at the Science Museum in London in the Making of the Modern World exhibit.

Long Now Clock

Hillis, who developed the 'massive parallel' architecture of the current generation of supercomputers, devised the mechanical design of the Clock and is now building the second prototype (the first prototype is on display in London at the Science Museum).

The Clock's works consist of a binary digital-mechanical system which is so accurate and revolutionary that we have patented several of its elements. With 32 bits of accuracy it has precision equal to one day in 20,000 years, and it self-corrects by 'phase-locking' to the noon Sun.

Long Now Orrey

The next project undertaken was an Orrery, (above). The Orrey is a planet tracking display and uses the same mechanical computer as the Long Now clock and was completed in 02005.

The Foundation is now looking to scale up the designs with lessons learned from these first two efforts into a monument sized version. They have purchased high desert mountain top property in eastern Nevada as the site for the public 10,000 Year Clock.

I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes. It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium.
Danny Hillis

For more information visit The story of the Clock of the Long Now and the Long Now Foundation

Suggested by
Guillaume Schmitz