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Alexander Rose: “The 10,000 Year Clock” | Talks at Google

Alexander Rose: “The 10,000 Year Clock” | Talks at Google


[MUSIC PLAYING] ALEX SAYDE: All right. Hello, everybody. Thanks for being here today. And welcome to everybody who’s
watching on the livestream from our other offices. My name is Alex Sayde
and we’re really excited today to welcome
Alexander Rose to Google. Alexander is the executive
director of the Long Now Foundation based right here in
San Francisco, and some of you may be familiar with their
work around The Rosetta Project, Long Bets
Initiative, some other things. But surely they’re best known
for the 10,000 Year Clock, which is a project
that Alexander’s been working on for the
last couple of decades. So very excited to have him
here to talk about that. And without further ado,
I’ll let him take it away. ALEXANDER ROSE: Thank you. [APPLAUSE] Hello, everybody. This project really
started with a story. And it was started by a group
of people who were largely part of the first wave
of Silicon Valley, people like Stewart Brand
and Esther Dyson. And there was this story about
these beams at the New College, Oxford, and there’s
these beams that went over the main dining hall. And when this was college was
built, it was in the 1200s, it was the New
College of the day and it was these huge oak beams. But 500 years
later, in the 1800s, these had become rotted
and infested with beetles. And the problem was
you couldn’t really just buy timber like
this in Europe anymore. It had mostly been harvested. And it wasn’t until they spoke
to the school forester who said, oh, well, we have the
grove of oaks that you planted. It turned out that the
practice of the time was you planted groves to be
harvested hundreds of years later to replace
these kind of beams. And so it was this
simple story that when Stewart Brand, who had founded
the “Whole Earth Catalog,” told it to Danny Hillis,
who had been designing some of the fastest supercomputers
during the ’80s with his company Thinking
Machines out of MIT, where Denney realized
that we aren’t really thinking like this anymore. We aren’t using these
simple leverages over very long periods of time. And in fact, by not thinking
over these kind of time scales, there’s some problems that we’ve
taken totally off the table. So you can imagine
climate change, if somebody said you need
to solve it in four years, you’re like, I can’t do that. But if someone
said 400 years, you can imagine how you
might start that project. And we basically, by
not giving ourselves these kind of time
frames to work on things, we’ve basically just
taken these types of problems off the table. And so the idea was to create an
example of long-term thinking. And as I mentioned, Danny Hillis
was inspired very early on, and he had been building
very fast computers. And he had this idea of
building not the fastest computer, but actually the
slowest computer in the world– a computer effectively
that was a clock that was calculating
the heavens and the date over 10,000 years, this time
frame of human civilization. And Stewart, who had been
talking with him about this, he had started the “Whole
Earth Catalog,” as I mentioned, and he thought,
well, that’s great if we get people’s attention
around long-term thinking, this monument scale, all
mechanical thing that gets people talking
in a different way about long-term projects. But what do we do with that? And he wanted to create a
kind of library or information service that would over the
same kind of time scale. And then Brian Eno, who was
one of the other people that started to be pulled into
this conversation, a musician, an artist, he had this
idea of the Long Now. He had grown up in England, and
when he first moved to New York in the ’70s, he went
to a friend’s house. It was in a really
horrible neighborhood. He was stepping over homeless
people to get into it. And when he asked if she
liked living there, she said, yes, I love it here. And he realized that
the here for her was right between those walls. And in New York,
when they said now, they meant the five minutes that
they were in, not the larger time that they were in. And so he started
contrasting the long now and the big here
with what people were understanding in
New York versus Europe. And so we used that term
to really stretch it out as to the larger human moment. And then this other set of
people who, as I mentioned, are very much part of the early
wave here in Silicon Valley, and I think they were really
seeing some of the speeding up of culture that we’re
definitely hip-deep in now back then. And they were
realizing that there needed to be some kind
of counteractive to that. And that was why they all got
together and started the Long Now Foundation. And I was hired
in the late ’90s– mid 1997– to start
working with Danny Hillis on building this clock. And I’m going to talk
about some of the lessons that we’ve learned about
how to build things that can last over 1,000 years and
some of the lessons we have from antiquity. And then I’m also
going to dive into some of the exact details of
the project right now, and, in fact, some
of the pictures that have been taken from
the site where we’re building the monument scale
version in West Texas that I just took a
few weeks ago, really. So this idea of 10,000
years really came first, from a conversation about,
what is the right time scale for us to be working in? And you want to stretch people’s
imagination around time, but if you start working
with the galactic time scale, these billions of years,
the whole human experience becomes totally dwarfed. So that’s not what we wanted. And even if you start
looking at millions of years on this
geologic time scale, it’s still a
dwarfing experience. It’s very difficult
to feel as though you have an effect in it. But this idea of the last
and the next 10,000 years, where the last
ice age retreated, we had some of the first
agriculture and cities, this was really what we wanted
to capture as the human moment. And I think the most
important part of this is not really thinking
about ourselves as the end of a
10,000 year story, but more in the middle of
at least a 20,000 year story of modern humanity. And if you start thinking
about yourself that way and the projects that
you’re working on, how would you act differently? And one of the very first
diagrams that came out of a conversation with
Brian Eno and Stewart Brand was this one of this layers of
human time, this pace layering, where you have the fastest
time and most chaotic elements out here, and I’d even put some
of the modern communication technologies up here on
this fashion layer now. And then it goes down into
commerce and infrastructure and governance,
culture and nature moving the absolute slowest. And the idea was,
how do we know when people are not acting in a good
way around long-term thinking? And you can imagine when
Pacific Lumber got bought out by Maxxam Corporation and
they owned the largest swaths of old growth redwoods
in the Pacific Northwest. This was all done in
this commercial layer. And Maxxam Corporation, their
main goal with all companies was to buy them and sell
them for their assets. And that’s one thing
when the assets are some buildings and some
machinery, but in this case, Pacific Lumber’s assets
were old growth redwoods, which are down here. And they basically
skipped all this and were trying to sell off
these millions of dollars of assets in a single
generation where they couldn’t be replaced. And then all hell
broke loose politically and they partially were
able to sell them off and they partially
ended up getting saved and bought out by
other interests. But it’s these kind
of moments where you skip a bunch of
these layers where you realize you’re probably not
doing long-term thinking right. And so I’m going to talk,
as I mentioned, about some of the things that have
lasted in antiquity, some of the reasons
why they have lasted. But you’ll see, and along
with that last example that I gave, is that
for the most part, one of the things
that we have really realized about trying to
think about the future in a positive way
is that when you’re making decisions that give
the future more options, you’re probably doing it right. The future will always have
more information than we have and we will always
have less information than the future has. So many choices now are
often made– if you look at, let’s say, something
like the Bill of Rights where it’s 10 things about
a sentence and a half each, they’re all very
principle-based notions that are intended
to be reinterpreted every single generation. Whereas a modern law
is 1,200 pages long, no one’s ever
actually read it all. But it’s very much
intended to have no room for different
interpretation by the future. And you can see
which ones of those seem to have better sticking
power, the Bill of Rights or some of these modern laws
that really, a lot of people don’t even know
what’s in all of them. So I’m going to move over to the
mechanical side of what I do. My background is in
industrial design, and as we have been
designing this clock, I’ve been collecting
various examples of ways that things have lasted. And one of the most
amazing examples is this one, which is the
Antikythera device, which was a very small piece
of corroded bronze that was found off the coast
of Antikythera, Greece. And for a long time
people realized it was special, that it had
gearings and these markings. But it wasn’t until they
started doing x-rays and other types
of scans and then were able to reconstruct it that
they realized it was actually an astronomical clock. It set back the date of a lot
of gearing and astronomical knowledge by almost 1,500
years once it was really understood what it was. It’s pretty amazing
in that sense and no one’s ever found
anything quite like it. But the really
interesting thing to me is that because it
was mechanical– if this was, let’s say,
an electronic clock that had been on the sea
floor for 2,000 years, there would be no way
to reconstruct this. So why is the clock that
we’re building mechanical instead of electronic? It’s because it has this
self-documenting feature. Even with something as corroded
as some of those pieces I showed you, they were
still able to figure it out. So you want to be able
to design something not only to work in
it’s designed operation state, but also in its
failing operation state so that people can reconstruct it. Another interesting
thing that happens is this idea of sacrifice. And we often see this
in nature with something like a lizard that can lose its
tail and still go on to live. But in antiquity we
also see it, where something like the pyramids,
the tombs were lost, the outer casing stones were
eventually stripped off. But if the intent of
the original builders was to keep pyramids
around for 5,000 years, this would have worked. And when people took
off these outer parts and stole the value
from the inside, they felt as though they
had extracted all the value from this. And for probably the
builders, they did. But if we imagine that the
builder’s intent was just to keep pyramids
around for 5,000 years, then that would
have been a success. And you also see
this in something like the Taj Mahal, where
the whole insides of it were encrusted with
all kinds of jewels. And when it was finally
sacked by the British for the last time,
they spent a long time prying all these jewels
out of the walls. And we still have this
amazing architectural artifact that wasn’t destroyed,
because they felt as though they had
extracted the value that they felt was just the gems. The other strategy is to
make something remote. And this has two elements to it. One is that there’s
also a mystery that people get intrigued
by when things are remote. This is a picture of the
Seed Vault in Svalbard. I was there a few winters ago. This is what it looks like when
you’re flying into the airport there. That’s the airstrip. And it’s extremely remote. It’s the most
northernmost permanently inhabited place on the planet. And the Seed Vault
is meant to store a copy of crop seeds
from seed banks from around the
world, which it does. What was amazing to me
after traveling all the way there was signing
into this guest book. I was signing in behind Ban
Ki-moon and Jimmy Carter. There’s something about
these remote sites that people really
find really compelling, and becomes part of
this myth, in our case hopefully, of long-term thinking
that we want to promote. The other interesting tactic is
to just take a really long time building something. The cathedrals of Europe
are definitely in this vein. So this is the
cathedral at Cologne. It took 600 years to build. It started in the 1200s
and finished in 1800s. And it’s actually still
under construction. But it helps pass this point. And another cathedral that’s
a great example is La Família in Barcelona– The Sagrada Família, sorry. And it’s now in its
fourth or fifth architect. Most famous one being Gaudí. It’s 125 years into
building, it probably has another 125 years to go. But it’s already a UNESCO
World Heritage site, even though it’s a
construction site. So it’s past this very critical
time that all of these things do, and we even see it here
in San Francisco, of one generation after
something’s built is the most dangerous
time for anything to last. Because it’s your parent’s
thing, it’s not cool anymore. But once it passes
that generation, then it’s this antique and
then people want to keep it. So Sagrada Família went
through this very much. It was unworked on
for a whole generation until somebody else
picked it back up again. And in Japan we see
another strategy, which is that
they’re just really good at maintaining things. These are two of the oldest
continuously standing wooden structures in the world. And they have just been
meticulously maintained in a very wet environment,
but they kept the roof on, they’ve replaced things
as they’ve gotten rotten. But they’re over 1,400 years
old and they’re made of wood, so even some of the
most ephemeral materials can last for thousands
of years if done right. And in fact, there’s an even
more ephemeral material temple site, a Shinto shrine that’s
close to this one, where they rebuild the site every
20 years in an exact replica. And they’ve been doing
that for over 1,600 years. And that’s just thatch and wood. So it’s another way of
this renewal of a design. And it also keeps
once a generation– the master teaching
an apprentice and going on generation
after generation. And another interesting
problem that I’ve noticed is that as you look
around the world, most things that are designed to
last for several thousand years are being put under ground, but
one of the big problems that happens there is that people
always think that they can keep the water out. What I’ve learned is that
you can divert water, you can’t stop water. So you can choose where
water wants to go. This was the last
picture they let me take before going into the
Mormon Genealogical Archives outside of Salt Lake City. I did find some pictures
from inside there amazingly. But the Mormon archives
were built in this bunker and the goal was to
keep the water out. And all of those drawers
that were in that last slide, all the bottom ones they
don’t keep filled because it’s already flooded five times in
the 40 years it’s been around. They basically can’t
keep the water out, so all they do is they’ve dug
trenches under the vault doors to let the water
through the site. And this is actually
a picture of the pumps that they had to install at
the Seed Vault in Svalbard. And the other underground sites,
like the nuclear waste sites, are also already
having these problems, even before nuclear
waste gets put in them. So it’s an interesting thing
that many of these sites have chosen to be underground,
but they have unfortunately thought that they
can stop the water. And the last one
that I’ll mention is this idea of ideology. This is before and after
pictures of the Buddhas at Bamiyan in Afghanistan. This is a person to give
you an idea of scale there. They’re massive. But the Taliban spent weeks
dynamiting those Buddhas out of that cliff face. For an ideology as
innocuous as Buddhism, that’s pretty impressive. And Long Now does have an
ideology of long-term thinking. And I think this is one of the
most largest dangers in trying to create something that’s going
to last for a very long time, is you never know
who’s going to choose to take that on as an enemy. Before I get into the
clock, Stewart Brand had talked about this idea of a
very long-term library and Alex mentioned The Rosetta
Project, so I just did just want to touch on it. Early on in this, we
realized we needed something that could also record culture
over the kind of time scale that we’re talking
about, not just inspire people to think long-term. And we looked at
the Rosetta Stone itself, which had two languages
and three different scripts, and it was the key to
deciphering hieroglyphics. But even with that, it
took 50 years of effort to decode hieroglyphics. That’s also another good example
of how bad really pictographic languages are. And we often think, oh,
if you want something to last for a really long
time, just draw pictures and everyone will understand. But it turns out, pictures
are super laden with culture. They’re the most difficult
things to understand. It’s way easier to
decode something like an alphabet that’s
phonetic like ours. And so we thought we wanted to
make a modern version of this. And so what we did, we spent
about a decade collecting parallel languages and 10
different elements of languages of parallel text, a map
of where it’s found, a basic description of it. And then instead of
etching it into stone, we could take these
thousands of pages and use a gallium ion beam,
the same technology that’s used for microcircuits, and
just write the actual text into silicon, and then
plate on top of that metals that can last for a long
time, like nickel or rhodium. And so we put 13 and
1/2 thousand pages of language documentation
on this disk, one of which was launched on the European
Space Agency’s Rosetta mission. If you remember just
a few years ago, the spacecraft
landed on this comet. And so it’s now our piece
of language documentation that’s going to continue to
orbit the sun in perpetuity. So the clock. This is the project that
I have been working on for 21 plus years now. We started with a prototype
that we finished in 1999. That one’s now at the
Science Museum in London. And then in 2005, Jeff
Bezos, founder of Amazon, came on to fund the
full scale version that we’re now building. So I’m going to talk about just
a couple of the design problems that we’ve solved in
working on the clock. This is a picture of the sun
at noon throughout the course of the year. This is what’s
called the analemma. So the summer solstice
is at the top, winter solstice is at
the bottom, the equinox– and the reason I’m showing
this is that the clock that we wanted to build, we wanted to
have a way for it to not drift its timing over the
course of 10,000 years. So we wanted a way to
synchronize it mechanically to the sun on any sunny day. But we also wanted
it to be able to keep time between those sunny days
with a pendulum that’s keeping what’s called absolute time. So the difference between
solar time and absolute time is this plus or minus 15
minute difference here, and then it varies throughout
the course of the year. So normally, if you wanted
to have a pendulum keeping absolute time and
synchronizing to the sun, all you would have to
do is make a cam that corrects for this one analemma. But the problem is,
if you’re trying to build a 10,000 Year
Clock, the Earth is also processing on its poles
every 26,000 years, and its slowing
its rotational rate by about a second a century. So all of that had to go into
a shape that turns around once per year, but is read over the
course of over 10,000 years to give us that plus or
minus 15 minute difference as it evolves for 10,000 years. So this one shape is that
equation of time as it changes. We’ve made this a
12,000 year cam. So you had 1,000 years
in the beginning, 1,000 years in the
end to make a new cam. The site that we’re building
at now is in West Texas. The very first site
that we– we actually purchased a site in
Eastern Nevada that was in the Great Basin
National Park that’s covered in some of the
oldest trees in the world, bristlecones, which
was an amazing site, but it also became very
difficult permitting-wise. And Jeff Bezos, when he
came on with the funding for this project, he was also
buying some of these ranch properties in West Texas for
his Blue Origin launch facility. And we found this
amazing site that’s karst limestone, something that
we can carve in underground. It’s also very close
to Carlsbad Caverns. We knew that it could support
underground structures, in that case, for
60 million years. And so in our case, we
just needed the 10,000. And in 2010, we started
the underground work. So w the goal was to build
an underground structure that started looking like this
rough, old mining entrance, and then as you move
through it, by the end and seeing the whole
clock, it would then look like this very man-made,
totally smooth-hewn project. And as you saw before, there’s
one type of underground work that’s the earliest way, which
is using explosives to work. And that makes very
rough surfaces, so that worked for the
beginning of our project. But then we had
this design where we wanted to have this forced
perspective, spiral staircase, underground space, where
we’re working– basically carving very smooth
surfaces underground. And we found in
Carrara, Italy, they do this, but just to work
effectively in the positive, just to cut big blocks of stone
out from under the ground. And so we borrowed one of
these nine foot diamond chainsaws from them and we
built a 36,000 pound diamond chain saw robot that
has been working– well, now it’s done now. It spent two years cutting plate
by plate out from underground. And then once you break out
the plates between those cuts, we were left with
what we wanted, which was both a hall space and
350 vertical feet of diamond cut stairs. And that just finished
up about a year ago. And that’s before the
railing got installed. That’s the nervous time. It’s a 500 vertical
foot hole, so working there is a little bit tense. The other parts of the clock– and we’re not done with
the clock, but a lot of it is getting very
close to being done. I’m going to show you a little
bit about the chime generator and the power system. The power system– and
I’ll be able to show you some images, in fact, of the
power system which we just installed on site in West Texas. The chime generator
that we built– this was the very
first prototype of it, where it can ring a series of
10 bells in a different sequence each day for 10,000 years. So when I mentioned that Danny
wanted to build effectively the slowest computer in the
world, this is one of those. It can do 10 factorial,
which if you do that math, it does come out about 70,000
days short of once per day for the entire 10,000 years. But the bells only
ring on the days that people are there
to wind the clock. So we assume there’ll
be a few missed days. But then we needed to
scale that design up to this thing that’s
in the spiral staircase that people would experience
on this architectural scale. And that’s what
we’ve been building largely out of parts that
are machined up in Seattle. But then this is our shop
right up here in San Rafael. Each one of these module
layers rings a bell, and there’ll be bells
hung between them. There’s 10 of them and
it’ll be 80 feet tall. And that’s the next thing
that we installed at the site. It’s a 60,000 pound
bell ringing device that we’re going to be lowering
in in the next few months. And the power system was
an interesting problem. With the first prototype
of the clock that we built, we realized that
there wasn’t really a way for people to
interact with the clock. Without someone being able
to own the moment that they have with it, it didn’t
really have the effect that we were after. And so we realized that we did
want people to wind the clock, but we also didn’t want it
to lose time when people weren’t there to wind it. And so what we ended up
with was a two part system where the part of the clock
that keeps the time is wound by the temperature
difference from day to night. At the very top of
this mountain there’s a tank of air that
expands when it gets warm and a metal bellows expands,
and we get just enough energy basically to keep
the pendulum ticking and to know where
the now point is. But to show you that now
point and for all the chimes to ring that use all the
energy for those bells, we require that people wind it. So when people come, they
wind the clock all the way up and they’re rewarded with
the bells ringing and all the different dials updating. And so once you get into this
level of human interaction with big mechanical
things, we had to build some of these
very large gears. And also, really what
we’re doing effectively, experience design. We’re designing
a ride that we’re trying to change the way
people think from the beginning to the end of that
ride, and work with a very large machine
that’s effectively storing 15,000 pounds of weight
that can fall over 100 feet. And one of the most
difficult problems that we had early on in
this project was bearings. If you’re trying
to make something that rolls over something
else that last for thousands of years out of metal,
it’s very, very difficult. And when I started
on this project, I found the right
solution and it was a bearing that was
developed for satellites. It was these ceramic
bearings that are engineered diamond hard
ceramics and they don’t rust, they don’t weld to themselves,
they don’t need lubrication, they’re designed
to work in space. But they cost about
$60,000 each 22 years ago. But now, they’re in fidget
spinners and Rollerblades and they cost $5. So it was one of those very
happy accidents of technology that allows us to basically–
every single moving part in this clock is using
ceramic bearings of some kind, either with metal races for
some of the very large ones or ceramic on ceramic bearings. And this is the power
system as it was being test assembled at the shop. And this is us putting it in
literally just a few weeks ago at the site. [MUSIC PLAYING] So for each one of
these builds, we have to build a temporary
work deck, which we’re working on there. It’s a 150 foot fall from
where we’re working otherwise. But even so, we’re all
working on tethers. And everything comes from the
surface partially assembled. And in some cases, assembled
with thermal fitting with that torch. That’s the temporary
deck getting installed for the next level. And that’s the
15,000 pound weight that stores energy for
the clock over time. And basically, it can even
run for over a century without being wound by
people just from that itself. And this is our amazing
crew of engineers who have been working on this. I’m just going to show you
some of these last few slides that I took while doing these
last installs just to give you an idea of the scale. The next thing,
as I mentioned, is going to be the chime
generator, and then the dials, and then the parts
that go at the top that do the self-winding and
the solar synchronizing. We were just there. The very last thing that we
did was hook up the winder. So these guys are winding
the clock for the first time. And that big thing
in the middle there is a rack gear that’s being
wound up with the weight on it. And you can tell it
moves very, very slowly. It would take
probably a whole day of winding to bring
it up to the top. And just a couple of
other local things that I’ll mention since you
guys are here in San Francisco. Some of you may have
been to Fort Mason. Our headquarters are right
there next to Greens Restaurant. We actually have a bar and
cafe called The Interval that we operate
downstairs of our office. And we also do a lecture series
there on long-term thinking. And then Stewart
Brand hosts a series mostly at SFJAZZ on
long-term thinking. Last night at The Interval,
we had Brian Behlendorf, one of the early founders of
open-source movement and Linux. And on Monday at SFJAZZ,
we have Juan Benet talking about long-term
infrastructure using blockchain technology
for file sharing. And with that, I
can take questions. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: Can you talk a
bit about maintainability? There’s all these really large
gears that you’ve machined and the ceramic ball bearings. How do you expect
people in 5,000 years to be able to replace
parts if they need to or anything like that? ALEXANDER ROSE: Well, the
tolerances that we operate on are actually very, very
sloppy in comparison to modern machining techniques. We are using modern
machining techniques, but actually, you could cast
these same parts out of bronze and still do it, which would
be 5,000 years ago technology. We have made as
much of the clock as possible disassemblable
and carry-outable, but we also are trying to
balance that against people stealing parts of it over time. So the parts that
you need to get to, you can without taking
the entire clock apart, like to replace a bearing
or something like that. You could replace
any of the bearings that we are putting in the clock
with stainless steel bearings or some future material that is
maybe better than even ceramics as well. Our goal was that we
tested all of the cycles to the number that
they need to do and beyond in making
the clock, but that’s not to say that something
won’t happen that causes that maintenance to be needed. But our hope is that at least
very large scale maintenance does not have to happen. AUDIENCE: Yeah. Hi. Just wanted to make
sure you can hear me. So two questions. First is, when do you
expect the construction on the clock to be
completely finished and open to the public? And then the
second, I don’t know if you necessarily answered
this, but why a clock? If you want to inspire
people to think long-term– you brought up the
concept of library. You were certainly quick
to bring up Sagrada Família and some of the other– why is it that it was a clock
that was finally decided upon? ALEXANDER ROSE: Yeah. So I’ll take that
last one first. I think it really could
have been anything. And I think there’s
also the question of, why a monument scale clock? The goal was to create, in a
way, a theatrical experience that changes the way
people think about time. And if we’re going to do
that on this human scale, there’s all kinds of ways to
build a 10,000 year clock. You could plant a pie shape
of forest every 100 years or something like that. So there’s many ways to do it. But we were looking
for something that would hold an
image in people’s minds that they would
want to travel to, or even if they
never traveled to, they would still be able to hold
as a reference in their lives as an object that was made
by people that was designed to last for that long. And since it’s about
time, the clock just seems to make
sense in that scale. Yeah. So I think there’s all
kinds of ways to do it. This is one of the
ways that we chose. We also, as I mentioned, we
have many other projects. We also have a
project on betting on long-term things of
scientific and social consequence. We have The Rosetta
Project and lectures. We could have just
released a Whitepaper on long-term thinking. But how effective
is that in terms of actually making new
stories and new myths and new cultural memes? Probably not very effective. So we wanted something
that people would actually tell stories about. And we’ve been lucky that
there’s already been– even we’re not done with the clock. Neal Stephenson wrote
a book called “Anathem” and it was a “New York
Times” best selling science fiction book that was
about a world with 10,000 year old clocks in it. So we’re starting to get
the right news stories told. Hopefully there will be more. You had another question– AUDIENCE: Yeah. When’s construction
planning on being done? ALEXANDER ROSE: When
it will be done. Yeah. We don’t have an end date. We’ve never worked towards an
end date or with an end date. We’re very lucky to have
a patron that allows that. And the goal has always
been to just do it right. But I’d say, as you can see,
we’re vastly more far along than we were two decades ago. And we’re now at the point
where working pretty quickly is required just from an
efficiency standpoint, where we have everybody that’s
designed it still on the team, they all go there
for the installation. We don’t want to lose those
people to other projects as we finish this. So we’re trying to work
pretty effectively. So it’s feeling like years,
not decades at this point. AUDIENCE: I guess
just [INAUDIBLE].. So if we wanted to visit, when
would it be open to the public? ALEXANDER ROSE: We will see. It will be open to
the public, but yes. AUDIENCE: But it’s not? ALEXANDER ROSE: Not yet, no. ALEX SAYDE: If we could do
one question from the Dory, the online questions. Someone actually asked
about the novel, “Anathem” that you mentioned. And specifically asked,
did the events described in the novel in turn inspire
any changes in the 10,000 year clockwork that’s ongoing? ALEXANDER ROSE: That’s
an interesting question. We refer to that novel and– just to catch everybody up
without giving any spoilers. It was a world, not this world,
but in a parallel universe that the only academic
people in the world lived in these
cathedral-like things that had these either a century
clock or a 1,000 year clock or a 10,000 year clock. And the rest of the
entire world was basically like mall culture. And so all of the academic
thinking and long-term thinking happened in these cathedrals. It was kind of like monks,
but they weren’t a religion. They were a religion of
long-term thinking, in a way. So I think we have
often referred to the book in
the sense of like, who is going to be the people
who help either maintain or are they docents of this
experience or just protect it? And so that, I think, has been
informed by that a little bit. AUDIENCE: Thank you. Do have any thoughts
about what Google can do to influence
long-term thinking? ALEXANDER ROSE: Yeah. What can Google do? I think one of the problems that
we started working on and one of the reasons that
Rosetta Project came up and we did it in this extremely
analog method of something that you can put
under a microscope and read rather than on
floppy disks or hard disks or whatever, was because we
realized we’re effectively archiving the world’s
culture at this point as born digital information or
retroactively scanning it in. And 1,000 years ago, we
wrote things down on rocks and you can still
read the rocks. And 100 years ago, we
wrote things down on books and you can still
read the books. 20 years ago, we
wrote things down with some of the
early databases, which are all totally lost. We definitely have some
great advantages now. Things are much more connected
and things are, in a way, more interoperable
because of the internet. But we are not
archiving things the way that can be necessarily
read in thousands of years. And so I think that Google is
in a unique position, obviously, of having so much data,
so much writing material. If the modern William
Shakespeare was writing now, would you be able to read that
content 500 years from now? It’s an interesting
question to ask yourself. And the design principle
that we use on the clock is, if we burrowed
into the mountain and we found the
clock already there, what do we wish we had found? And so I might ask you
to think about the ways that information is
being created and stored, that if you found it
1,000 years from now, what do you wish you had done to make
sure that that data was saved? ALEX SAYDE: We’ll just
alternate with the Dory. Someone asked about the
sky map at the Hoover Dam. Are you familiar with that and
do you have any comment to add? ALEXANDER ROSE: Yeah. So there’s a very
interesting site that is very poorly documented. And if you have ever
visited the Hoover Dam, you probably have visited
it and now known it. But as you come down
onto the dam– which now, I guess you can walk on, but
you can’t drive vehicles on. They have a new overpass. There’s a inlaid floor that
was done by an artist named– last name of Hansen, I
believe, and then there’s two beautiful
statues next to it. And what he did was, he used
the procession of the equinoxes that I mentioned that
are cam references to make an image
of the night sky and the major planets
and stars the day that the Hoover Dam was
commissioned, effectively. And so setting in time the
date of when the Hoover Dam was built in this Terrazzo floor
that is absolutely super beautiful and it’s
super well-thought out and super well done. Unfortunately,
that whole site is run by the Bureau of Land
Reclamation, which is not the most future-thinking site or
one that cares much about this. So they have almost no
information about it. I was able to talk
them out of sending me the blueprints for it. And I scanned those and put
them up on the internet archive and did a whole blog
piece on the– our blog, for people who are
interested, I think it’s probably the
most documentation that that site has. And it’s a really cool one. If you’re ever at
the Hoover Dam, you can impress your
friends by pointing it out. AUDIENCE: So it’s two questions. The first one you
probably answered. Say the clock is
ready and the next day something like
the rapture occurs and every human
being disappears. Do you expect the clock
to work actually 10,000 years with no one
actually looking at it? And the second
actually has to do with the Japanese approach
or their temple approach with the Japanese one. There’s two ways to do it. The statical thing
that is meant to work or some kind of
evolutionary thing that would depend on some
kind of mission that actually holds itself to advance. Because in 5,000 years,
every language or reference to English, the United
States or human culture disappears, are we able to
get some kind of other culture to understand what this is? Is it self-documenting enough? Because if you have this– I don’t know–
mission that actually can keep going on generation
through generation, which one do you think is more reliable? Because both have risks. ALEXANDER ROSE: Yeah. I think probably the largest
risk to the clock is people, but the reason we’re
building it is for people. So we designed it very much for
people and to work with people. We have done it, we have made
best efforts to make sure that everything will work for
10,000 years all by itself. The dials wouldn’t
update, but it would still know when now is. And if someone showed up at
the end of that 10,000 years, they could wind
it and get there. The question of if the– sorry, the last
question was about– AUDIENCE: Approaches that you
could take this problem of– ALEXANDER ROSE: Oh, the
incremental approach. Yeah. So again, the goal here was
to make something that people would tell stories about. And I think people do
tell stories about some of these other things. Like the Shinto shrine
at Ise, and certainly there’s whole belief systems
that that’s central to. And so that’s a
totally reasonable one. This was just the one that
we chose to give a try. And so the documentation
part of it, that Rosetta disk that I mentioned, we
did put all the plans of the clock on that
disk and have continued to update them as some of
the new versions of that disk has come out. And it gives us a
way to document over very long periods of time. Was there anybody else? ALEX SAYDE: Can
we take one more? ALEXANDER ROSE: Sure. ALEX SAYDE: So there’s
a bunch of questions online about the long-term
resistance of the clock, the earth is in motion,
complex system, all that stuff. So maybe just a couple of those. Someone asked, what would happen
in the event of an earthquake if it’s resistant? And there’s another question
about how much change can be tolerated in the
temperature difference that actually powers the clock? ALEXANDER ROSE: Good questions. Yeah. So the earthquake thing– we’re building in
West Texas, which it’s not the most stable
tectonic place on the Earth. Something like Australia
probably would be. But it’s pretty stable. We started with a geologic
report that basically said that up to a 6.0 may happen. It’s a one in 10,000 chance
that a 6.0 will happen over the course of 10,000 years. So we went with 6.0 as
our Richter scale design. And even did some simulations
of that big weight that was hanging to see if it
would swing in weird ways and rack into things, and
made a few modifications to deal with those
kind of waves that might come through the
site because of that. As I mentioned, we’re very close
to Carlsbad Caverns and those caverns are built in the
exact same– or built– they were formed in
the same limestone and have lasted between 2
million and 60 million years. So the underground
space is pretty darn, I think, resilient on
the kind of timescale that we’re talking about. What was the last one? ALEX SAYDE:
Temperature difference. How much could be tolerated? ALEXANDER ROSE: Yeah. So the temperature–
the thing that synchronizes the
clock to the sun, as well as the thing
that pulls energy is a differential engine. It is not a absolute engine. And so the air system– the seals on it are ceramic
and the piston is graphite. And so it’s not
sealed with rubber. We didn’t think there’s
any kind of seals like that that would last anyway. But they basically let
a little bit of air by, so they’re always finding– the design was to find about a
week long equilibrium of what average temperature
was to then have a tank that’s getting
heated by the sun to give you a difference. And so even some of the
places like Antarctica or some of the hottest
deserts in the world, they still have huge differences
between day and night temperature, even though
their absolutes are much more extreme than we are now. So should work. We’ll see. Thank you, everybody. [APPLAUSE]


Reader Comments

  1. We're no further from the height of the Roman Empire than that society was from the zenith of the Egyptian Civilization.

    And how should we define human? The human race as we know it has existed for approximately 50,000 years.

    This makes it approximately 800 lifetimes old, assuming a lifetime to be from sixty five to seventy years. Of these 800 lifetimes, about 650 were passed by cave dwellers. Nearly all the manufactured products, luxury items, and technological conveniences we enjoy today were invented or perfected within only the last five to seven lifetimes.

    Less than 100 generations have walked the Earth since mankind learned how to write.

  2. [ ro.] interesant, am vazut jumate din video. voi face o pauza de zece ani , ca sa vad cealalta jumate. [en] interesting, I've seen half of the video. I'll take a break of ten years to see the other half. intéressant, j'ai vu la moitié de la vidéo.[fr] Je vais faire une pause de dix ans pour voir l'autre moitié. […]

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