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How Jeff Bezos’ Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works

How Jeff Bezos' Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works Featured Articles

When billionaire and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos tweets a message on Twitter, the world listens. That’s what happened a couple of days ago when Mr. Bezos shared a video of substantial progress being made on a project he mostly paid for known as the 10,000 Year Clock – a terrestrial timepiece intended to operate for 10,000 years. News of the 10,000 Year Clock’s existence isn’t new, but updates on its progress are. A complex cast of genius thinkers and technology professionals are behind not only the production of the 10,000 Year Clock, but also its core design and intention. The purpose behind the 10,000 Year Clock – in addition to its compelling engineering challenge – is a sentimental one for the masses, brought to life thanks to the spending power of our current society’s ultra-rich.

10,000 Year Clock inventor Danny Hillis easily admits he doesn’t have the faintest idea of what the future will be like in 10,000 years – but that is sort of the point. The entire reason for the existence of the 10,000 Year Clock is part of the overall mission of a non-profit organization called The Long Now Foundation. In some circles the clock is known as the “Clock Of The Long Now.” “Long Now” is an artistic phrase meant to remark on humanity’s sense of time and the impact of our actions on our world. The foundation’s goal appears to be the promotion of long-term thinking in decision making (and who could argue with the sensibility of such a mission?). The 10,000 Year Clock is one of the foundation’s flagship projects, being currently built by Danny Hillis’ Applied Minds company.

The people and agendas behind the design and production of the fascinating 10,000 Year Clock are subjects for another discussion. Suffice it to say that among other things, Mr. Bezos, Hillis, and the other people involved in the 10,000 Year Clock project are dedicated to our species collectively upping our game when it comes to understanding the wisdom and application of authentic long-term decision making. We live in a world regularly marred by short-term decision making where immediate gain is often followed by greater loss.

More generally the 10,000 Year Clock project is meant to inspire tomorrow’s long-term thinkers – which is perhaps its greatest immediate value. Generations of potential scientists and thinkers growing up in the mid 20th century were comparatively lucky with many young people today (in my humble opinion). Everything from the atomic age to space travel saw enormous private and government investment into science research and development. Today’s world has mostly private interests funding innovation – which is predictably immediate profit-based as a result. Many argue that without a more dedicated global and government effort to spur innovation, private interests simply aren’t enough to propel our next “moonshot.” Thus, the real value of the 10,000 Year Clock isn’t merely in how impressive these artifacts will be to our long-term ancestors, but in how such a project will inspire today’s current and future leaders to invest in long-shot projects that benefit innovation and invention without promise of immediate cash reward.

The 10,000 Year Clock getting all the media attention in a remote part of Texas isn’t the only one planned. Bezos’ $42 million dollar investment in the 10,000 Year Clock does get it built on his personal land, but there are plans for more of them to be built. That actually makes sense since if the design of the system exists and works, producing copies isn’t nearly as expensive as the original. More pragmatically, if the mission of the the Long Now foundation is for the clock to last 10,000 years, then producing a few of them and relying on redundancy (a few are bound to be destroyed or simply break) is very practical. Already a second site for the next 10,000 Year Clock has been retained in Nevada.

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How Jeff Bezos' Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works Featured Articles

Photo Credit: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Choosing a location for the 10,000 Year Clock is an important part of how the system works and is essential to the device’s long-term planned operation. To be clear, no one actually knows if the 10,000 Year Clock will actually operate for that long. There aren’t any mechanical devices that old or close to that old still in operation to learn from. Nevertheless, the 10,000 Year Clock project team has the entire world of traditional watchmaking to learn from, as well as the resources to use powerful simulation software – not to mention a budget sufficient to get pretty much any material or component they need. To keep the 10,000 Year Clock still, safe, and free from too much dust and debris, it is being constructed underground inside of a mountain.

Temperature and seismic stability are essential parts of choosing where to build the 10,000 Year Clock. Another poetic element to the project is just how remote the installation is. When completed (there is no completion date yet), the Clock will be open to guests – and in fact the entire installation is meant to impress. It is worth noting that Danny Hillis and others working at Applied Minds have backgrounds working for Disney (where presentation is everything). The clock won’t be easy to get to. In fact, its entrance is supposed to be a secret stainless steel door in the ground. The 10,000 Year Clock team are building the clock in such a remote location not only because the location is technically ideal, but because it is meant to have people ask “what will that area be like in 10,000 years?” It is entirely possible that the clock will be smack in the middle of a bustling future metropolis. Unlike some industrialists out there today, Jeff Bezos is fond of the notion that we should maintain Earth as the long-term home for humanity. This is contrary to the popular notion that no matter what ecologically-friendly preventative measures humans engage in, our rate of population increase as well as energy consumption will inevitably lead to an Earth that can no longer sustain life. Such an eventuality, according to such thinkers, would require humans to leave Earth in search of another suitable home or homes.

How Jeff Bezos' Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works Featured Articles

Photo Credit: Jon Snyder/Wired.com

How Jeff Bezos' Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works Featured Articles

Photo Credit: Jim Merithew/Wired.com

Part of Bezos’ and Hillis’ long-term thinking philosophy is that discipline and research are the best ways to solve our problems. Lots of both were required to get the 10,000 Year Clock to this point, and will also be required to get it finished. In some ways this might be the most significant advancement in traditional horology that our generation will ever see. Imagine, a clock designed to work on its own, without any human intervention, and without errors in accuracy, for a full 10,000 years. That isn’t just the goal of the 10,000 Year Clock, that is also its promise. Danny Hillis began to think about the 10,000 Year Clock and by the mid 1990s had a working prototype. In the early 2000s Jeff Bezos (an existing friend of Hillis) decided to fund the project (as a rule, having wealthy friends to fund wild ideas is possibly a good idea), and now in 2018 construction of it seems to be going along very nicely. With that said, even the Long Now Foundation admits that some of the technical issues haven’t been worked out yet (and that is one of the reasons why the project doesn’t even have an estimated completion date – again, good to have very rich friends).

Most of how the 10,000 Year Clock will work has been developed already, and its systems are deceptively complex given how the machine is meant to operate. What many people do not fully appreciate is that the 10,000 Year Clock makers want future people finding it to be totally flabbergasted at what it is and why it was made. The design team considered everything from how the clock should indicate time down to the atmosphere of the clock dial chamber. In fact, the underground “lair” of the 10,000 Year Clock will come with five special milestone rooms – only one of which will be completed when the clock is finished. These rooms are meant to celebrate 1, 10, 100, 1000, and 10,000 year milestones in the life of the clock. The first room which is being built by the current team will feature a larger orrery (mechanical indication of the position and movement of the planets), as well as a host of impressive mechanics dedicated to our current understanding of the sky. Each of the four empty rooms will contain hookups for future installations so that they can be connected to the clock’s power system and current data.

How Jeff Bezos' Mechanical 10,000 Year Clock Works Featured Articles

Image Source: The Long Now Foundation

Much of the clock is vertical, with the bulk of the device being a 200 foot tall column, existing in a 500 foot shaft that robots had to bore. A custom-built mason work spiraling staircase will allow people who find the secret entrance of the clock to descend into its depths. There will be no electricity or artificial light available. Two of the most important technical challenges faced by the 10,000 Year Clock’s team were how to keep it powered and how to keep it accurate. Interestingly enough, both of these problems were already more or less worked out by the world of traditional timepiece makers – in a much smaller and short-lived form. This is an interesting irony, because people at the cutting edge of high-tech are once again looking at technology solutions that those in the world of horology sometimes solved hundreds of years ago. What makes this more ironic is that most horological research over the last 100 years has been dedicated to making timekeeping systems smaller. For the 10,000 Year Clock, the challenge is a macro one. Meaning that the major effort required is not in making things smaller, but rather in making them larger and long-lasting.

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  • DanW94

    What an interesting project. Great write-up Ariel. My prediction, the clock breaks in the year 2525 and gets sent back to Amazon for repair, gets lost in the warehouse on the planet Bezopiter and returns in the year 2700 but with parts missing. It gets sent back again, finally gets fixed but takes another 150 years to be sent back because it wasn’t shipped Prime.

    • IG

      In year 2525 you can just buy the Chinese knock-off of it from Alibabezos.com.

  • sonyawiley

    Hey Jeff(family) even more now, right?
    I see the President have brought you to the table, congrats on that your back in the game.
    I’m going to show him how to treat you so you can be your most productive self seeing that you hit it out of the park on a consistent basis brining your brilliant ideas is a total assets, then we can get me on board while also taking it to the next of confidence in this Administration.
    We can really get some things done for the American people, that’s where I want to utilize myself at all times. Dam your cute and total turn on, your clean energy is though the roof.

  • Good Gene 42K18

    Bezos is our Luke Skywalker and what Master Jeff isn’t telling us in this instance is how he will keep the gears lubricated: https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e860ab5da3ab0be045a9ad8480b73f85c3737633a49ba56ab494d7a16770be1a.jpg

  • Good Gene 42K18

    Horology Dies in Darkness, Jeff

  • Bill Davidson
  • Just be a bitch to wind by hand (good thing is has those pendulum weights and Atmos system) and at 200 ft tall it surely won’t fit under the sleeve of a dress shirt. So this must go in the “Sports” and not “Dress” category.

    Any bets that the noon detection will work in 10 thousand years? Possible the the axis of the Earth might shift and render only blue sky when the system looks for the big yellow thing in the sky. But if the solor sync works, that does seem to take care of the leap seconds issue (slowing rotation of the Earth and all).

    And more importantly – are the hands the proper length?

    • Kuroji

      Y NO TOURBILLONS? THEY R TEH BEST 4 ACCURAT!

    • egznyc

      Your thought about the axis shift is real: just google axial precession.

      Also – loved your comment about the “L” – the letter, NOT the “L Word.” 😉

      • Yes, my mind is by turns technical and then dirty, ha ha.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Too much money to burn. I can’t quite see the point.

  • SuperStrapper

    “When billionaire and Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos tweets a message on Twitter, the world listens.”

    Literally fuck off with that crap. There is a massive population contingent that couldn’t care less what Jeff bezos tweets.

    I’m sure his success qualifies God for the American Presidency though. WINFREY/BEZOS 2020 VOTE FOR CHANGE I SAW THEM ON TV EVERYONE WILL GET A NEW CAR

    • Marius

      Hahaha! Excellent comment! Personally, I had absolutely no idea who this guy was.

      • SuperStrapper

        To be clear, I’ve had a large and diverse investment portfolio my entire adult life that has included Amazon for many years. I admire how they scaled the company and treated their investors. But I couldn’t care less about his hobbies or personal opinions. He’s running a business not a friendship.

        • Yep, I buy plenty of stuff via Amazon even though I don’t care for Jeff’s politics and that he has turned the Washington Post from a respected house of journalism into yet another mouthpiece with an agenda.

          • Omegaboy

            Mark, I like you even more!

    • Bill Davidson

      What the world needs – another clock head.

  • Spangles

    Would have been better without the date and at 38mm

    • IG

      …and on NATO.

  • “AD 9,985 – In what used to be called West Texas, part of the long defunct United States of America.

    Hillary Jones, descendant of ancient archeologist Junior Jones, steps carefully across the rocky terrain towards the location that LIDAR scans from space have detected. A small crystalline dome protruding from a mountainside, covered by a few feet of dirt and debris. Travel is difficult under the weight of her supplemental environment suit, as there is little oxygen left on the planet. Her problems are compounded by the lack of any natural light, except for those times when what is left of the Earth’s sun is closest to the barren planet.

    Jones has travelled from Musk One, a planet where many descendants of ancient Earthlings migrated three thousand earth years ago to survive. She has made this long journey after researching a bunch of super rich drinking buddies who supposedly built a giant clock somewhere in the West Texas desert in the Earths’ 21st century. And the explorer in her DNA can’t resist the temptation of the possibility that his mythical device actually exists.”

    Well, what the Hell. I figure the foundations will be open to renting the installation for 100K/day to filmmakers. So this is just an idea for a story.

    Nice article Ariel.

    • Clock with an “L” – oh, I missed that at first. I thought she was hunting something else. Never mind.

    • Tom Cole

      I like it. Write the story! This could happen, because….

      “Three planets out from a dying sun
      Wanders a dust-covered sphere.
      Barren and airless, all life is gone,
      And nothing watched man disappear.”

      (Part of a poem written by me 70 years ago)

      (But the clock might still be there!)

      • egznyc

        Shit – that was well before the moon landings! I imagine you must have experienced the excitement of seeing something that seemed like science fiction become a reality.

  • sonyawiley

    Hey Jeff(family)
    Your a doll baby, a male doll baby, yet strong!

    Thanks for giving President Putin the benefit of doubt in the Washington Post that Oligarch story yesterday that got his attention here by telling the truth on this proxy threat in Russia where the Oligarch is funding Russian soldiers to attack US ones that my have American influence, keep doing that for him please we have a serious threat that has to be address here.

    The truth will set us free and I can put these mega pest where they belong it will be the best day of my life, one of them.

    Quick story: I’ll give you the back story on my weigh soon it tragic yet my diet for the past 10 years affords me a slim very healthy body, I’ve been in and out of gyms for decades I did almost 3 years about a 1 &1/2 ago before I hurt my back now healing and in the last 9 years I’ve gain 30 pounds losing weigh, why? I find a product that works I buy it again and I gain weigh this last time they drew blood from me. I kept the capsules for court, they sabotage my weight so they can keep knocking it my weigh that’s the only thing they have on me. I’m hip to it now so I’m losing now for good it’s been cold blooded.

    By the way, I’m a politician at heart, I’m loving it!

    • IG

      Jeff isn’t here so you can sod off.

    • Timestandsstill

      Oops ! Someone’s off their meds

  • Shirley Furby

    Enjoyable article, good job.

  • Good Gene 42K18

    Long Nao is the name of Marius’s [member of marginalized group].

    • IG

      What marginalised group? ABTW commenters?

  • Framlucasse

    A cool idea, but the 10.000 years life long seems a bit optimistic to me. Look at the pyramids or the Coliseum…

  • Tea Hound

    For the true Amazon experience, it needs to be delivered late in a three oversized cardboard boxes.

    • Michael Peñate

      You need a $4 NATO to go with it too.

  • Yan Fin

    It’s about time for an article ‘ How we can fix Amazon’.

  • Boris N. Natasha

    fascinating article. where do you even start? you have all the money in the world, no articulated philanthropic vision — which looks kinda weak compared to your ‘Giving Pledge’ brethren — and this is the kind of personal vanity project you attach to. sure helps the rest of us 1%ers sleep better………………………………..

  • Raymond Wilkie

    Finally, a watch that might fit me .

  • Playboy Johnny

    A stupid endeavor. Who really cares.

  • Raymond Wilkie

    I borrowed Stewie’s time machine and can tell you this clock broke on july 2021 and was trashed.

  • Polerouter

    I find it sad that everyone is calling it Jeff Bezos’s clock. Jeff Bezos is a sponsor who arrived quite late in the project. Granted, the project could probably not work without his money, but he is neither the instigator, nor the inventor or a worker… This is the Long Now Foundation’s clock, not Jeff Bezos’…

  • Yanko

    I am deaf and blind to this purely useless exercise.

  • IanE

    Q. So why did you do it?

    A. Oh, just bezos!

  • Omegaboy

    In 30 to 50 years, all the people working on this mousetrap will be dead.

  • Omegaboy

  • Drop files here or
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