The Long Now Foundation

By January 24, 2018technology

ALEXANDER: This space is called the interval, and it’s our cafe and bar and event space and a museum and a library, so it’s many things. Our menu is a time-based menu, so it’s kind of the idea of showing alcohol through civilization’s history. And it turns out the history of alcohol is about as old as civilization. It’s arguable as to where – which one started which. We try and trace that history with a beer recipe that is 3000 years old. One of the beers that weserve is called Midas Touch, and it was – the recipe was created by a bio – molecular archaeologist who scrapped the – the urns inside of King Midas’ tomb when it was excavatedand figured out what was in those urns and gave that to a brewery, and they generated a beer based on that recipe list. So the books behind me are a collection of books called the Manualfor Civilization. They’re the 3000 books that you would most want to sustain or restartcivilization.

CRISTINA: Alexander, what is the seed of this project?

A: Well, the Long Now Foundation started back in 1996 as a reaction to a speeding up of the world, so the hope is to get people to think longer term. The first project that we started was a 10,000-year all-mechanical clockbuilt at a monument scale, and some these objects here are prototypes along the waytowards building that clock. But the idea is that was an icon to long-term thinking. Most of theways it tells time is with natural cycles, so everything from the sun, the moon phase, the nightversus daytime, and the human eye visible planets like this device, and several otherways going all the way out to the slowest cycle it keeps track of is the procession of theequinoxes, which is 26,000 years. The full-size monument scale version of the clock isbeing built in west Texas. We wanted a very high desert site that was away from cities so thatit doesn’t get caught up in things that cities do like wars. It’s also a very good preservationenvironment. It’s very dry, and we wanted something that was underground but way up in a mountain so that water would drain out of it and wouldn’t get caught up in it. Ryan one of our board members as well as computer scientist Danny Hillis devised analgorithm to ring a series of 10 bells each day in a different sequence for 10,000 years, soover 3-1/2 million combinations of bell ringing.

C: And how do you count time – the years in the Long Now Foundation?

A: We add an extra zero to the beginning of the date, so nowit would 02014. Kind of remind people that we’re working in a 10,000 – year time frame. Well,one of the things we look at when we’re building the clock is  you know  what aesthetic will people enjoy a hundred years, a thousand years, ten thousand years from now? And so oneof the ways to look at that is what aesthetic do we enjoy from 10,000 years ago? And wehave artifacts. We have the cave painting of Lascaux that are 17,000 years old, and we haveplaces in Italy that are 3,000 years old,  you can start to get a sense ofwhat a possible eternal aesthetic and human relation to an object is, and we try andembody that in the things that we design going forward. Other parts of it were inspired by interesting places around the world. One of them actually was the Da Vinci designed well at Orvieto, Italy with the trends spiral staircases. The whole clock experience is actually a longvertical shaft with a spiral staircase through it.

C: And tell me about the fascinating project that is ongoing here at the Long Now Foundation about language preservation.

A: The Rosetta Project was started back in 1998, and it was a way to get people aware that not onlylanguages are disappearing from the earth, but also the way we preserve things isincreasingly digital, and that doesn’t last for a very long time. So we made a disk that has thousands of languages represented on it, and they’re micro-etched, so you read them with a microscope not with digital technology. And one of those disks is on the European Space Agency’s Rosetta Mission that’s just now arriving at a comet. The name of the Long Now Foundation came about from a concept by one of our founding board members, Brian Eno,who when he moved from London to New York, he realized that when people said now in New York, they really meant about 5 minutes. And in Europe and London, they really mean the time the larger time that we are in. So he called that the long now and the New York version the short now. And we extended this idea of the long now to mean the 10,000 years that we’re in.