Posts Tagged ‘clock of the long now’

The Long Now

20 June 2011

Dear J-

The Clock of the Long Now is underway and when complete it will chime once a year for ten thousand years. That is assuming that our descendants don’t find some way into a new dark age and take the magic of their past apart to salvage advanced metals and machined parts. If there are any lessons to learn from the Antikythera Mechanism then we will continue to be respectful of the past and curious but believe that we’re still more advanced, that we’ve moved forward in technology by the mere movement of years. Ten thousand years from now we may regard the efforts of the Long Now as quaint as reciprocating steam engines and high-wheel bicycles if not completely incomprehensible.

Given the current pace of the state of the art there’s no way to know where we’ll be ten years from now. Twenty years ago the state of the art was wrapped up in a VGA wrapper and color monitors were a fourteen inch expense. Ten years on we were starting to see flat panels. Now tubes are reserved for the retro grouch and VGA is something found on the sad crappy smartphones that they give away with new accounts. I have had a long day and the speculation of how a machine designed to run for ten thousand years makes me think of Neal Stephenson’s Anathem: will we be creating a new religion to promulgate the proper operation and maintenance?

What form would it take? I can see initial generations being flexible and willing to rewrite the instructions but after a few centuries the strucures would become ossified. The years continue to roll and “because that’s what it says” becomes an adequate reason. I already see it with items at the plant today, unearthing thirty-year-old drawings and data sheets to see if we can find modern parts and replacements and I don’t envy the maintainers of the Long Now their burden.