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Work Progresses On 10,000 Year Clock

timothy posted about 5 years ago | from the artifexian-contrapulation dept.

Displays 307

KindMind writes "CNet has pictures of a planned 10,000 year clock to be built in eastern Nevada by the Long Now Foundation. From the article: 'Running under its own power, the clock is an experiment in art, science, and engineering. The six dials on the face of this machine will represent the year, century, horizons, sun position, lunar phase, and the stars of the night sky over a 10,000-year period. Likely to span multiple generations and evolutions in culture, the thinking and design put into the monument makes it a moving sculpture as beautiful as it is complex.' This was reviewed on Slashdot in 2005. Really cool pictures, including one of a mechanical 'binary computer' that converts the pendulum into positions on the dial."

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307 comments

10,000 years (1)

batquux (323697) | about 5 years ago | (#27571897)

This seems optimistic.

Re:10,000 years (5, Interesting)

Tx (96709) | about 5 years ago | (#27572083)

For the clock, or for the human race?

Re:10,000 years (4, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | about 5 years ago | (#27572341)

Perhaps if more people stopped to consider the future that far in advance, our odds would improve. And perhaps the mere existence of such a clock would encourage a few to do so.

Re:10,000 years (3, Funny)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#27572593)

Perhaps if more people stopped to consider the future that far in advance, our odds would improve. And perhaps the mere existence of such a clock would encourage a few to do so.

Ah that's crazy. Any year now, the Yellowstone supervolcano is going to blow, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it. The world will be plunged into a dark ice ages, and that will be the end of us.

Re:10,000 years (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 5 years ago | (#27572775)

The period between eruptions of the Yellowstone hotspot/caldera are on the order of hundreds of millions of years. You seem to be talking about a whole different order of pessimism.

This message brought to you by Vint Cerf, who didn't let the imminent Yellowstone catastrophe discourage his work on computer networks.

Re:10,000 years (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572749)

For example, the Mayan clock has a digit rollover in December of 2012, and that kind of forward thinking has allowed the Mayans to become one of the dominant cultures in the Western... oh, wait.

Re:10,000 years (4, Funny)

Java Pimp (98454) | about 5 years ago | (#27572587)

In 10000 years after humans are long dead and gone and it has finally wound down its readout will show simply "42".

Re:10,000 years (1)

cexshun (770970) | about 5 years ago | (#27572997)

Depends. The Mayans did this centuries ago. We seem to think that when their clock runs out in 2012, the universe ends. Some of the more sane among us doubt the apocalypse, but still theorize some cosmically significant event that can change the world. What will the civilization after us think about OUR clock? I can only hope they are sane enough to take it as it is, a random and arbitrary cutoff number.

Re:10,000 years (3, Interesting)

TheRedSeven (1234758) | about 5 years ago | (#27572463)

Anyone else wonder if, just a mere two thousand years from now, some future country will discover this and wonder what it is?

Just look at the Antikythera Machine [antikythera-mechanism.gr].

Re:10,000 years (2, Interesting)

cyphercell (843398) | about 5 years ago | (#27573039)

Yes, ever wonder if Noah was a geneticist? How else are you going to fit all of those beasties on a boat?

Errr (1)

Bobnova (1435535) | about 5 years ago | (#27571915)

As opposed to a non-binary computer?

Re:Errr (3, Insightful)

thedonger (1317951) | about 5 years ago | (#27572109)

As opposed to a non-binary computer?

Sometimes the term 'computer' does not literally mean the electronic thing plugged into the wall under your desk running Linux.

Re:Errr (1)

MiKM (752717) | about 5 years ago | (#27572335)

Indeed. 50-60 years ago, a "computer" was a person or group of people performing computations.

Re:Errr (5, Informative)

Tx (96709) | about 5 years ago | (#27572123)

As opposed to a non-binary computer?

Yes [wikipedia.org]

Re:Errr (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572325)

There are infinitely many bases which are non-binary, and as a tautology, there are thus infinitely many different designs of non-binary computers.

I'm not sure if there are countably many, maybe someone could enlighten us on the properties of irrational number bases.

Re:Errr (1)

Cynonamous Anoward (994767) | about 5 years ago | (#27572873)

I do in fact believe that there are infinite possible bases. The problem is creating unique symbols. It is not enough to claim you have a base-1024 number system, you must create 1024 unique symbols for the system. For an infinity-base number system, you need infinite unique symbols.

The limit to creation of computers which function in bases other than two is mostly limited by the capabilities of the human brain. We have enough trouble juggling binary. each additional number adds significantly increasing complexity.

I believe that it has been theorized that the most efficient machine would actually be tertiary (i.e. one more than binary), and numbers past that have diminishing returns. The Tertiary system would offer several distinct advantages in data manipulation, especially in dealing with odd numbers. It also offers a third state for decision making, although debate rages over what the best use for that third state would be, probably something akin to "maybe". Arguably, The third "maybe" state of a decision is a primary limiting factor in the creation of AI, since the "maybe" state is a critical part of human intelligence and decision making.

Theoretically, a base-10 computer would also be an excellent choice. Even though exceedingly complex to design at a electronic level, the advantages would be immeasurable (programming in the same base as we naturally think would make everything far easier and less error prone). Even though base-10 is significantly more complex, the alignments of the patterns of numbers are such that it optimizes the use of the number system quite well. This is exactly why humans naturally went to it without quite understanding what they had done.

Ten thousand year waranty (5, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | about 5 years ago | (#27571931)

I betcha it breaks 6 months after the warranty expires.

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (1)

Samschnooks (1415697) | about 5 years ago | (#27571967)

Please! The metal and parts were bought at Best Buy! The clerk promised that it will be protected for the whole 10,000 years! How can they lose!

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (4, Funny)

EkriirkE (1075937) | about 5 years ago | (#27572237)

"...under this extended 999 year warranty. We also insist on diamond encrusted gold monster ball bearings for a much more accurate time keeping."

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572525)

...We also insist on diamond encrusted gold monster ball bearings for a much more accurate time keeping.

Haha, well done sir.

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (2, Funny)

Cynonamous Anoward (994767) | about 5 years ago | (#27572955)

Who the hell would go through the trouble of gold plating and diamond encrusting a monsters balls? sheesh, there are some bored motherf****rs out there...

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (4, Funny)

MikeOtl67of (1503531) | about 5 years ago | (#27571981)

I betcha it breaks 6 months after the warranty expires.

No worries, you would have lost the receipt!

The solution is clear (1)

hedwards (940851) | about 5 years ago | (#27572233)

Just give it a warranty period of of 119,996 months and it should be good to go.

Re:The solution is clear (2, Funny)

idontgno (624372) | about 5 years ago | (#27572573)

Again, we're talkin' Best Buy here. The basic warranty is 90 days. The extended warranty for the rest of the 10,000 years cost $OMGTHATSALOTOFMONEY.

And they won't sell you the clock without the warranty. "Nope, sorry, fresh out, we got a really small allocation from the distribution center. I think you passed the guy who bought the last one walking out of the store as you were walking in. Check at the other store (20 miles) across town. Kthxbye."

Re:The solution is clear (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572909)

90 days?! Are you serious? That makes me glad to be living in the EU where warranties must be at least 2 years. Doesn't stop sleazy shops from trying to sell a super special extra extended warranty of the same length providing what they legally must anyway...

Re:Ten thousand year waranty (1)

InsertWittyNameHere (1438813) | about 5 years ago | (#27572667)

I betcha it breaks 6 months after the warranty expires.

They should open source it so that anyone can step in at any time and maintain it.

ha ha ha (5, Interesting)

grub (11606) | about 5 years ago | (#27571971)


This modern-day Stonehenge will be scavenged for parts and resources long before 10,000 years. Much like how the original Stonehenge was.

Re:ha ha ha (3, Interesting)

evanbd (210358) | about 5 years ago | (#27572279)

That's why one of the design considerations is avoiding valuable materials. This is nontrivial -- materials with good corrosion and wear resistance tend to be pricey. Obviously the clock won't be made of anything as low value as stone, but it is a consideration.

Re:ha ha ha (1)

DerekLyons (302214) | about 5 years ago | (#27572467)

Except stone isn't low value - otherwise Stonehenge, the Pyramids, and many lesser known buildings wouldn't have been scavenged over the centuries. Even today, with stone not being a primary building material, it is still valued for decoration and used as a component in concrete.

Re:ha ha ha (5, Informative)

pz (113803) | about 5 years ago | (#27572603)

That's why one of the design considerations is avoiding valuable materials. This is nontrivial -- materials with good corrosion and wear resistance tend to be pricey. Obviously the clock won't be made of anything as low value as stone, but it is a consideration.

It's a big problem: build something pretty, and it becomes an object of desire, even to have a small part, and people will take. Build something that will last a long time, and it needs to be resistant to weathering, and therefore valuable, and people will take. Build something that has a function, it will be a source of political power to control it, and people who do not control it will try to destroy it. The engineering is only one part of the problem.

The other thing I worry about is that the design tolerances are going to be difficult to maintain. Anything that will last 10,000 years will experience seismic activity, no matter where you put it. Few large structures can withstand being shaken while retaining high tolerances. I've spent a fair bit of my youth around buildings that were only 2500-3000 years old (in Greece), and by and large, they were not in very good condition, even when not scavanged for building materials. We do not understand how to build structures to resist corrosion and weathering on millenial time scales -- that does not mean we shouldn't try, just that we aren't good at it, yet.

Re:ha ha ha (1)

thered2001 (1257950) | about 5 years ago | (#27572729)

I don't know -- a '22 lb. sphere of tungsten' might be handy to someone re-inventing the lightbulb in 5K years.

Leap Seconds (1)

Talthybius (633309) | about 5 years ago | (#27572033)

I wonder, does it account for leap seconds and the slowing rotation of the Earth? If not, someone's going to look foolish in a few thousand years when their clock is off.

Re:Leap Seconds (1)

chebucto (992517) | about 5 years ago | (#27572077)

Yes: http://news.cnet.com/2300-11386_3-10000718-7.html?tag=mncol [cnet.com]

I can imagine this device looking like a magic number to engineers 9,000 years from now as they try to figure out how the thing works.

Re:Leap Seconds (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572255)

no, 9,999 years from now some conspiracy theorists will use this clock as a proof that our civilization foresaw the end of the world for the following year.

Just like Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with the last words from the Mayan guy who was working on it: "damn, i got to get a life, I'm done".

Re:Leap Seconds (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | about 5 years ago | (#27572831)

no, 9,999 years from now some conspiracy theorists will use this clock as a proof that our civilization foresaw the end of the world for the following year.

Just like Mayan calendar ends in 2012 with the last words from the Mayan guy who was working on it: "damn, i got to get a life, I'm done".

The Mayan (Long Count) calendar doesn't end in 2012; OTOH, I suppose the idea that our concept of time ended at the end point of the 10,000 year clock's coverage would the kind of preliminary mistake as "the Mayan calendar ends in 2012" that could precede and support a further mistaken belief that we expect the end of the world at that time.

Re:Leap Seconds (4, Insightful)

flaming error (1041742) | about 5 years ago | (#27572235)

> I wonder, does it account for leap seconds and the slowing rotation of the Earth?
Try reading TFA:

Due to the elliptical orbit of Earth, variations in the absolute time kept by the pendulum and solar time can vary by as much as +/- 15 minutes each year. The Equation of Time Cam measures the difference in these two times and recalibrates the clock, while also correcting for the Earth's axis wobble and 1 second per century decrease in speed.
...
Sunlight striking a wire will allow this solar synchronizer to make minute adjustments and realign the clock's absolute time pendulum with true solar time.

> someone's going to look foolish in a few thousand years when their clock is off.
That's wrong at so many levels, but I'll just say that it's better to miss a few seconds over 10,000 years than to miss your life by doing nothing with it.

Re:Leap Seconds (1)

iluvcapra (782887) | about 5 years ago | (#27572941)

someone's going to look foolish in a few thousand years when their clock is off.

The antikythera mechanism doesn't even turn anymore, but no one looks foolish for making it.

The real question is what does it say about us as a people that we would construct such a thing? That we are very conscious of our mortality? That we live in a time where a concept like the End of Civilization is taken seriously? (Note that this is very different from a belief in the apocalypse, and shows a certain development over the past thousand years). This is an artifact that says a lot about its makers without its makers saying anything- the best kind of artifact.

How about a non-powered clock? (4, Interesting)

davidwr (791652) | about 5 years ago | (#27572051)

How about a non-powered clock that used the positions of the sun, moon, and stars to tell the time?

We already have a version [wikipedia.org]? that works for about half a day in most parts of the world, and 24 hours during the summers near the poles.

Another option:
A clock that simply reads the remaining amount of radioactive material in a sample. Use the radiation to drive the device.

Re:How about a non-powered clock? (3, Informative)

StevenMaurer (115071) | about 5 years ago | (#27572253)

It sounds like a good idea, but because of precession [wikipedia.org] of the Earth orbital axis, a sundial becomes inaccurate over the course of even a couple hundred years. Everything from Mayan ruins (which were originally lined up with the sun), to astrological signs (which originally stood for the period of time when a certain constellation was covered by the sun) have been made inaccurate by this effect.

Predictability (2, Insightful)

davidwr (791652) | about 5 years ago | (#27572939)

If you can predict the unique patterns of shadows or light on any cloudless day or night in the future, you can make a calendar and clock that will work on that day.

In the worst case, you chisel astronomical tables into stone tablets then leave long-life measuring instruments behind. At that point, "what's the date and time" becomes "measure and look it up in the table."

Re:How about a non-powered clock? (2, Insightful)

evanbd (210358) | about 5 years ago | (#27572411)

Reading the amount of radioactivity in a sample to a precision of even 1 day in 3.6 million is nontrivial. Doing it with a device that will survive 3.6 million days while being exposed to said radiation is even more so.

Building a clock that lasts 3.6 million days is not a project for a single day, let alone the five minutes spent on a slashdot comment.

Re:How about a non-powered clock? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27573111)

How about a non-powered clock that used the positions of the sun, moon, and stars to tell the time?

Pfft. Those won't work after humanity is forced to scorch the sky in order to deprive the warring machines of solar energy.

Disclaimer: Not Related to End of Time (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572067)

Should we engrave something somewhere that states 'this does not predict the end of time', so we don't have the Dec 21, 2012 hoopla starting up again?

Re:Disclaimer: Not Related to End of Time (2, Interesting)

Camann (1486759) | about 5 years ago | (#27572469)

Do you really expect people to remember that for 9,000 years? By then, I expect the "Not" to have worn down or maybe the whole thing... When asked, people will first relate, "Oh, that said, 'Not the end of time'." which will be remembered as, "Something about the 'end of time'." passed on simply as "End of Time" and eventually will become the name of the clock: "End of Time Clock"

Kind of useless pictures... (1)

Merovign (557032) | about 5 years ago | (#27572135)

You'd think I would appreciate lots of close-up pictures of dissociated machine parts, but today, not so much. Must be taxes, but that gallery just looks like a lot of meaningless gears.

Even pictures need context.

Inspiration for "Anathem" (4, Informative)

StefanJ (88986) | about 5 years ago | (#27572159)

Neal Stephenson's novel Anathem was inspired by the work and philosophy of the Long Now Foundation.

In brief: The narrator and many of the characters are members of a scholarly order which separates itself from the distractions of the outside world. Their monk-like existence is bound by many rules and rituals. Many of these center around the "winding" and tending of an immense clock.

Not a book for everyone, but I found it entertaining and intriguing.

Re:Inspiration for "Anathem" (1)

jerquiaga (859470) | about 5 years ago | (#27572791)

As soon as I read the summary I wondered if it had anything to do with Anathem, or vice versa. Definitely enjoyed the book.

Non-moving clock (1)

interiot (50685) | about 5 years ago | (#27572165)

The motion of galaxies/superclusters/filaments [wikipedia.org] is pretty steady, why not just record the current positions many of them, and note when each observation was taken? Even if a small number of superclusters collide, most are likely to still be intact after millions of years, and this would require no moving parts.

Re:Non-moving clock (2, Insightful)

Rakshasa Taisab (244699) | about 5 years ago | (#27572903)

The point of this clock isn't the accurate keeping of time, rather it is to create dreams for the living, of a time long after their own death.

A 54 years old 25,753 year mechanical clock exists (4, Informative)

Gnavpot (708731) | about 5 years ago | (#27572173)

This mechanical clock was completed 54 years ago. It has a 25,753 year cycle.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jens_Olsen's_World_Clock [wikipedia.org]

(And it had to be completely renovated after 40 years...)

Re:A 54 years old 25,753 year mechanical clock exi (1)

PitaBred (632671) | about 5 years ago | (#27572923)

And wound every week. This clock is meant to be completely autonomous. That world clock is a neat device, but it's not nearly the same kind of project.

Apocalypse 12012! (1)

analogkid76 (1224880) | about 5 years ago | (#27572181)

I wasn't able to glean the date that this clock will start officially ticking, or what will happen when the 10,000 years is up. But I hope that the creators document these things in a way that will be unambiguous to earthlings of our distant future - or else they may be creating yet another year in which apocalypse will be predicted, perhaps somewhere around 12012? Like 2012 all over again...

Re:Apocalypse 12012! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572369)

12! Oh, 12! Why?!?!

The End is Near (4, Interesting)

travdaddy (527149) | about 5 years ago | (#27572191)

Just think, if this thing really works, then we've created another day where everyone will stockpile cans of food and hides in the cellar! "The Ancient Americans knew this clock would only need to be accurate for 3.65 million days!"

If you doubt that will happen, take a good look at the Mayan calendar.

Save it for the next intelligent species. (1)

SalaSSin (1414849) | about 5 years ago | (#27572193)

Why would we want to make that?

In 10000 years, the only living beings around will probably be some sort of overdeveloped cockroaches just starting to get a grip on speech.

12009 (5, Funny)

Lakitu (136170) | about 5 years ago | (#27572211)

THE WORLD IS GOING TO END IN 12009

THE AMERICANS PREDICTED IT

Re:12009 (5, Interesting)

Chris Burke (6130) | about 5 years ago | (#27572491)

Lol, yeah, I can even see that happening.

Plus, if I understand the device, then it's powered by a couple huge weights slowly falling down a screw. Whatever future society encounters it may not fully understand it, and based on the "Doomsday myth" might assume something is supposed to happen when the weights reach the bottom. There'll be a whole society of people who want to find out, and on that auspicious day they'll travel up to the mountain and have a big party and sit around speculating what'll happen. Will a secret passage open up containing the wisdom of the ancients? Will the whole thing collapse as if mimicking the destruction that will soon engulf the world? Then the moment finally comes, the bells sound one final time, the weights settle at the bottom of the machine... and it stops moving. That's it. They wait around for a while, but still nothing happens. They all leave, and one is heard to mutter "Whoever these Society of the Long Now people were, they're a bunch of jerks."

Re:12009 (0)

GMFTatsujin (239569) | about 5 years ago | (#27572523)

Not only do we predict it, we're doing our best to make sure it happens.

So far, we're refreshingly ahead of schedule. We are, however, a bit over budget.

yes, but.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572215)

...imagine a beowulf cluster of Soviet Portmans.

Perpetual motion (2, Interesting)

piripiri (1476949) | about 5 years ago | (#27572229)

Running under its own power

Perpetual motion ?

Re:Perpetual motion (1)

AndyGJ (1212742) | about 5 years ago | (#27572517)

Running under its own power

Perpetual motion ?

Yeah, either I haven't had enough coffee today or they are promoting the wrong aspect of the project here.

Re:Perpetual motion (1)

jjohnson (62583) | about 5 years ago | (#27572579)

It has weights that descend over the course of a century, and will need to be wound every century. The point was to have an independent, purely mechanical power source that could run for 10,000 years as long as someone just bothers to reset the weights. No chemicals to run out, no dependency on an outside power source to keep functioning.

Building things to last.... (1)

javacowboy (222023) | about 5 years ago | (#27572281)

Doesn't seem to be a priority in our modern capitalistic, manufacturing-intensive civilization. It seems that things are built deliberately to break down nowadays. Appliances that used to last decades now seem to break down in less than 10 years.

With all the environmental problems and the scarcity of resources, I welcome efforts to make things more durable in order to encourage reuse of resources. Sadly, this lesson seems to be lost on most people.

   

Re:Building things to last.... (2, Insightful)

u38cg (607297) | about 5 years ago | (#27572761)

The sad fact is, companies that build to last go out of business. It turns out that, despite protestations to the contrary, consumers want built in obsolescence.

Tower of the Winds is not 10,000 years old (4, Informative)

CodeBuster (516420) | about 5 years ago | (#27572307)

The Tower of the Winds [wikipedia.org], the public mechanical calendar/sundial in the old Roman agora in ancient Athens, was probably not more than a few hundred years old before it was stripped for parts, looted, and converted into the bell tower for a former Byzantine Christian church. If history is anything to go by, then this mechanism will also be broken up and destroyed long before 10,000 years have passed.

Re:Tower of the Winds is not 10,000 years old (1)

momerath2003 (606823) | about 5 years ago | (#27572689)

Yeah, with the amount of steel and tungsten (!) in this thing, it will quickly be cannibalized at the next fall of government/civilization.

Teotwawki all over again. . . (1)

agnosticanarch (105861) | about 5 years ago | (#27572419)

Oh, great. Now some culture in the far future is going to think that teotwawki is going to happen when this clock finally winds down. This is as bad as the Aztec calendar! Can someone fix that problem and include somewhere on there directions for building the next one so our descendants don't have to hear paranoid religious zealots and superstitious nutballs going on and on about Armageddon (or whatever they'll be calling it up then)?

~AA

The "Equation of Time" Cam... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572431)

...looks very organic. It's kinda sexy.

10.000 years? Don't think so. (1)

nomorecwrd (1193329) | about 5 years ago | (#27572645)

No machine that complex (according to the photos) would last 10.000 years. Or they suppose there will always be funding for maintenance for the next 10.000 years?
If that's the case, even my Casio digital wrist watch could last that long, with proper care and maintenance. (It's turning 22 years old and still ticking ... er... oscillating??)

Re:10.000 years? Don't think so. (1)

maxume (22995) | about 5 years ago | (#27573109)

In the last few years, they came out with a solar powered GShock. Give them another couple hundred years and Casio will be turning out artifacts full time.

solid state solar watches will last longer (0, Offtopic)

tjstork (137384) | about 5 years ago | (#27572669)

If you really want something to last 10,000 years, build it, then throw it away. It will get buried in the landfill and will sit there for all eternity.

In the future our ancestors will be happily discovering that a reasonable percentage of the stuff we've thrown away will still be repairable and made workable.

Indeed, 10,000 year old watches will be so common in the future that its probable that the clock won't even be worth a post on some future slashdot when it is unearthed.

obviously (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 5 years ago | (#27572819)

Long Now is L(o ^ 10,000)oong.

10000 binary years ? (3, Funny)

olivier69 (1176459) | about 5 years ago | (#27572837)

We have been fooled ! This will last only 16 years !

And I understand binary !

--
There are 10 types of people in the world : Those who understand binary, and those who don't...
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