With $42 million in funding from Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos, the Long Now Foundation can afford to take the long view about a massive clock designed to run for 10,000 years — but it’s also open to hosting visitors in the nearer term.
The leader of the team behind the 10,000 Year Clock, which is currently being built inside a mountain in West Texas, talked about getting the place ready for guests in an interview published on Friday by The Hustle.
“We have a year or so more of installation work, and a year of commissioning,” Alexander Rose, executive director of the Long Now Foundation, was quoted as saying. “Then we’ll start to have people up to the clock.”
Don’t expect it to be a theme-park experience, however.
“The area is very remote high desert — one of the smallest per-capita areas in the lower 48 states,” The Hustle quoted Rose as saying. “People will have to hike up 2K feet to see it. Hopefully, it’ll be an experience that gives them some time to think about it all.”
Although Rose’s comments made it sound as if tours could begin in as little as two years, a spokesman for the Long Now Foundation told GeekWire that no completion date has been set.
“We don’t know when the clock will be completed,” Long Now’s Andrew Warner said in an email. “We have given hundreds of interviews and never given a completion estimate — part of the whole point of the project is to not limit ourselves to a completion date.”
The project was conceived by entrepreneur inventor Danny Hillis, one of the Long Now Foundation’s founders, as an exercise in long-term thinking. When clock-watchers contemplate a timescale that goes as far ahead into the future as the roots of recorded history go back into the past, that could provide fresh perspectives on problems such as climate change, poverty and hunger.
After carving out a network of tunnels and chambers amid mountainous terrain that was bought by Bezos, the 10,000 Year Clock team is putting the steampunk-style works into place, module by module. The components for the clock are machined in Seattle and the San Francisco Bay Area, and then shipped to Texas. Rose said that the dedicated “clock team” has about 10 engineers and 10 fabricators, with as many as 40 people working on the site at a given time.
When it’s finished, the 80-foot-tall clock’s dials will reflect astronomical data such as the positions of the moon and the sun, and there’ll be a counter showing the current date on the Gregorian calendar. A chime will sound a series of 10 notes in a different sequence each day for roughly 10,000 years, assuming that visitors keep the chime mechanism wound up, Rose said.
“The clock always knows what time it is,” he told The Hustle. “But all the things that show the time in the clock require people to run it, and update it, and put energy into it.”
Forty-two million dollars may sound like a lot of money, but Rose pointed out that it’s a lot less than Hollywood spends on a blockbuster romantic comedy. (Or, to add a more pointed perspective, it’s a lot less than Amazon is spending on its “Lord of the Rings” adaptation for Prime Video.)
“I hope our clock will last much longer, and help the world a little bit more, than a rom-com,” he said. “I hope someone who stumbles across the clock in the future realizes we built it because we cared about them. And maybe it will inspire other people to build things that last, or to work on more ambitious problems with longer timeframes.”
Update for 12:05 a.m. PT Dec. 10: A previous version of this report suggested that the 10,000 Year Clock could be ready for tours in as little as two years, based on quotes from Rose. However, the Long Now Foundation has since told GeekWire there is no specified completion date, and we’ve updated the report to reflect that.