If you’re a member of the Long Now Foundation, you think about vast spans of time. That’s why the futurist think tankers put a 0 before every year to show how cool and forward-thinking they are (for example, this year is 02008). They’ve decided to build a huge mechanical clock on a piece of Nevada mountaintop property they bought, and they’re saying the symbolic time-counting monument will last 10,000 years, chosen because that’s “about how long humans have had a stable climate and technological progression.”
The picture above is a smaller 8-foot prototype of such a device, which was designed by Long Now co-founder and uber-genius Danny Hillis with help from author Neal Stephenson, whose new sci-fi novel Anathem features the clock and a quasi-religious society that tends to it over the millennia. The idea started with an essay Hillis wrote back in 01995.
“I want to build a clock that ticks once a year. 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.”
He built that clock in miniature, but now it’s time to figure out how to make a gigantic one that will last 10,000 years. When he first suggested this idea in 1993, Hillis wrote, “I would like to propose a large (think Stonehenge) mechanical clock, powered by seasonal temperature changes.” He’s probably already taken a look at the Atmos design that can run forever on temperature fluctuations. While he now favors winding by humans as the best fit for the goals of the clock, he still calls a clock powered by temperature change a “viable alternative.”