10,000 Year Clock — Response to Infinity

A century ago, pioneers from the old world and the new, ventured over unexplored fields and uncharted seas to begin life again in a new land. Today, man reaches new horizons in power in minutes symbolizing both pioneer vision and modern courage in the comforts of space and time. Between these two great bridges in historic San Francisco bay, is an inspiring tribute to the achievements of our time. My name is Alexander Rose and Im the executive director at the Long Now foundation and I started here back in 1997. Originally, I grew up in a junkyard in a town not far from this machine shop in Sausalito, California and I literally was in a junkyard. It was a great place to grow up and I was always building things and I wanted to keep building things and it wasnt until uh, I was going to choose a college and what I was going to do in college that I saw industrial design as an option. So when I started in this project, I was hired as a project manager to build the first prototype so Danny Hillis had a funder to fund our first prototype and um, so originally I was just the project manager and that was the only thing were doing that was not Long Now foundation there was no larger shell for it and um, but increasingly as we kept talking and people started talking to us, we realized were kind of alone in this space of long term thinking and people wanted our opinion and we wanted to reflect what were doing in a larger context so thats when we started doing some conferences and eventually worked our way into a seminar series through a friend housed here in San Francisco.

Having a larger scale organization that wasnt just building a clock, but that first prototype was completed in 1999 and is now at the science museum in London. When the project started in 1997, we were approaching the year 2000, and uh if you can remember back then, there was a lot of flurry about things like the Y2K bug and uh kind of uh apocalyptic thinking about that time and then the other problem which is, we really want to be an inspiration for the whole project that Danny Hillis was pointing out, is that when he was a kid in the 60s, the future was the year 2000 and there we were in the year 1997 and it was still the future, so basically his future has been shrinking one year per year for his entire life, and I think in my generation, he is another 20 years older than me, but in my generation, it was the tail end of the cold war and it just wasnt the future, it was basically Armageddon was our future and it took this project to really reset that in my brain like oh, were actually are probably going to be here and so but what is that here going to be like and in fact we need to start making better choices and in fact heres a much better one.

When I started this project I really wasnt thinking about the future. And when I start thinking about the physicality of building an object thats going to last 10000 years which is basically 10000 years is what we have of our past civilizational history, so were looking back that 10000 years, what has lasted and we started looking at that and we started looking at that much further out in the future than I had ever considered, it definitely started making me think about other cycles as well astronomical cycles which gets you into millions and billions of years and geologic cycles that gets you into millions of years in kind of realizing that those cycles makes humans and my life feel insignificant, but this 10000 years one even at 25 years a generation thats 400 generations. So you kind of can get your hands around that and go oh I can pass something on to somebody for 400 times, I can see that happening and that also made me think about this idea of what you pass on. So fundamentally, were going to be here as individuals for a certain amount of time and what do you want to pass on and I think the thing that Ive realized about long term thinking in general in working with Long Now is that mostly what you want to do is do things that allow the next generation to have greater choices.

If we burrow into this mountain, and we found a clock already there ticking, what clock do we wish we had found? And what do we think that those people will be trying to say to us. And fundamentally, we just want to be saying that we care about that future and let the future figure out how they want to attribute value to things and if they think its beautiful, or ugly, or a silly idea, or any of those things that is up to them, but I think fundamentally if we do our job right, theyll at least think that we cared about them. Back when I started on this project 17 years ago, I heard about these things called ceramic bearings and I started looking them up, and I called some friends who I knew worked at NASA and theyre like: yeah we have some in our satellite program and they cost 100,000 dollars each and so I realized that was not really something we were going to be able to use in our clock project but by all accounts they were definitely the thing that we wanted to use in our clock project, they could run without lubrication, they were near diamond hard, but luckily, as time has progressed on the project and we built the other prototypes, things like ceramic bearings are now in roller blades, so now they are off the shelf items and so when we started to build this full scale project, we knew that we wanted to use ceramic bearings exclusively throughout the entire clock because we know ceramic can last, we have pottery shards from 40,000 years ago and because they can run without lubrication, so we really wanted that ability and so when we started talking to different bearing manufacturers, it wasnt until we spoke to Boca that had the full range of what we wanted, they could send us a lot of samples then we started testing them and we ran them in test in places like in this machine shop and in some cases, for many years in order to get the number of cycles that the clock would need, and I think the highest number of cycles is over 350 million cycles we needed from one of the bearings to run without lubrication, no one had done this test without lubrication before, so we did those tests and they all came back amazing and so thats why we been working with Boca Bearing ever since.

Technology or engineering education, I think, is clearly going to be where the future has to be, we are not going to be creating a new future without fantastic engineers who also have a sense of culture and have a sense of art, and all of these things are blended together. I think projects like this one where youre building a clock that has to last 10,000 years, but thats not the only thing it has to do, it has to change the way people think about time, so we obsessed about every little visual element and every experiential element and so its very much in that same vein, I think more engineering projects that are going to have an impact are going to need all of those elements..