An non-profit organization called the Long Now Foundation is currently working on a bold new piece of horological technology. It is a clock known as the Long Now Clock—which is being created by an exceptionally intelligent man named Danny Hillis and his team. According to their website, they’re taking inspiration for the clock regarding what is approximately 10,000 years of known human history. To pay homage to the ingenuity and spirit of the human experience, they are set to make a timepiece that will carry itself into another era of civilized life—one yearly tick at a time. The Long Now Clock or 10,000 year clock is being designed with the same materials you might find at an archaeological dig, in order to retain its integrity for plethora centuries. Fighting back the elements, as well as potential thieves, it does not contain any precious material (jewels, precious metals, etc…) and can be upkept easily with simple ancient “Bronze Age” tech. Futurism, though not the ancient past, is at the heart of the project. With a desire to plant a seed for others to reap for ages to come, Danny Hillis’s vision is to leave something behind that will outlast himself—and be a part of everyday life for whoever proceeds us all—for millennia of generations. In his own words, quoted by the copywriters of his organization, he says, “I cannot imagine the future, but I care about it. I know I am a part of a story that starts long before I can remember and continues long beyond when anyone will remember me. I sense that I am alive at a time of important change, and I feel a responsibility to make sure that the change comes out well. I plant my acorns knowing that I will never live to harvest the oaks.” (The Long Now Foundation)
The original prototype was built and ready to start timekeeping on 31st December 1999, just in time for the advent of the new millennium. Its initial demonstration took place in Presidio, San Francisco to a modest crowd of people. This first prototype now resides in the London Space Museum. There are also two more prototypes on display at the Long Now Museum & Store in San Francisco. A full scale prototype of this clock is going to come out at roughly 200 feet tall and is still being machined and assembled.
In order to deal with the 200 foot scale, Long Now requires a large housing for the piece. So it’s literally being built inside of a massive geological feature (an actual mountain)—and is costing over 43,000,000USD for just the site-building and manufacturing costs. Thankfully the project has the financial backing of billionaire Jeff Bezos and his organization Bezos Expeditions. Though the clock is going to be taking up residence on Bezos’s private ranch near Van Horn Texas, the machine elements are currently being built and assembled in California and Seattle. It’s going to be a horological achievement at the same calibre as any world-class astronomical studies lab. As it stands, the entirety of the piece is going to be housed inside of a 500 foot tall shaft cut out of its mountainous home. The prototype designs of Bezos’s latest real-world production show a complex machine with a six-foot titanium torsional pendulum; 10,000lb counterweights; and eight-foot tall stainless steel gears. Driving the slow-moving oscillations that will keep the Long Now Clock chiming for ages, the pendulum will reliably keep sounding all 10 of the clock’s annual millennial chimes.
With a size that will be easy to walk up to, patrons of this functional installation will be able to walk a spiral staircase around and inside of its guts. Being almost temple-like, the site will have jade-paneled doors that open to the staircase. At the top of the winding stairs there will be a crank that allows folks to help keep this massive timepiece wound. As an added bonus—anyone who engages the winding mechanism will be met with one of over 3million chimes designed by the Long Now Foundation’s Brian Eno. The top of the clock will be adorned with a domed sapphire glass crystal that will regulate the clock’s movement to solar noon everyday. Thus—even if it’s not being attended to, or cranked by regular visitors—the 10,000 year clock will continue with its goal automatically. Essentially: If every human civilization crumbles, this legacy clock will continue to ring out across whatever remains of our more distant future.
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