If you were a Silicon Valley billionaire and had an extra $42 million rolling around your pocket, how would you spend it? Large-scale vaccination programs to protect children in developing countries against preventable diseases, campaigns to improve public education, or investments in renewable energy to help save the planet?
How about building a really, really big clock inside a hollowed-out mountain?
Amazon CEO and founder Jeff Bezos announced plans to build “The 10,000-Year Clock” in 2011. Now, construction has begun and, to celebrate, Bezos shared a video on Twitter of the contractors getting down to work.
So, what do we know about this incredible (if extravagant) piece of engineering so far? The 152-meter (500-foot) tall timepiece, powered by day and night thermal cycles, is expected to keep accurate time for the next 10 millennia. Every day, the clock’s chime generator will emit a unique bell ringing sequence, while the clock’s hands will creep forward once a year.
“Over the lifetime of this clock, the United States won’t exist,” Bezos told Wired in 2011. “Whole civilizations will rise and fall. New systems of government will be invented.”
“In the year 4000, you’ll go see this clock and you’ll wonder, ‘Why on Earth did they build this,’” he added. So, essentially, it's the Stonehenge of the 21st century.
Plans are to build five “anniversary chambers”, the first of which will open after its first year to reveal a model of the Solar System. Ideas for the 10-year anniversary are still being collected, while the 100, 1,000, and 10,000-anniversary chambers will be left to future generations to design.
Then there is the cuckoo, which will make a brief appearance on the millennium before returning to its chamber to hibernate for a further 1,000 years.
The idea for a “long-term” clock was first thought up by the inventor, entrepreneur, and computer scientist Danny Hillis back in the 1990s. Hillis founded The Long Now Foundation in 1996 with the ambition to foster more long-term thinking.
“When I was a child, people used to talk about what would happen by the year 02000. For the next thirty years they kept talking about what would happen by the year 02000, and now no one mentions a future date at all,” Hillis explained in a statement on the foundation’s website. “The future has been shrinking by one year per year for my entire life.”
The year 2000 is long gone, but our “short-term perspective”, arguably, is not. With matters of climate change, nuclear weapons, antibiotic resistance, and possible Artificial Intelligence Armageddon to deal with, it certainly wouldn’t hurt to encourage a little more long-term thinking. The real question, however, is whether a multi-million dollar clock in the middle of a mountain is the best way to go about it.