June 26, 2011

Amazon’s Bezos Building 10,000 Year Clock: Wired

Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos has a dream: to build a clock that will run for 10,000 years.

Bezos, a self-made billionaire has begun construction on the giant timepiece, which will be housed mainly underground, according to Wired Magazine's Dylan Tweney.

The clock isn't just the ultimate timepiece; it is a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. He hopes that building the mega-clock will change the way humans think about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.

The clock, if it holds true, will exist far longer than the United States. "Whole civilizations will rise and fall. New systems of government will be invented. You can't imagine the world "” no one can "” that we're trying to get this clock to pass through," Bezos told Wired.

To help achieve his mission of encouraging long-term thinking, Bezos launched a website to publicize his clock. People who want to see the clock once it is finished can put their names on a waiting list -- although it will be years before it is completed.

Bezos' epic undertaking, with the help of numerous people, can be compared to the construction process of the Egyptian pyramids. And as with the ancient pharaohs, it takes a certain level of pride and arrogance to even consider taking on such a challenge.

The project is, among other things, a monumental engineering problem, challenging the makers to think about how to keep a machine intact, operational and accurate over thousands of years.

The idea for such a clock has been around since at least 1995, when Danny Hillis proposed the idea in Wired Magazine. Since then, Hillis and others have built prototypes and created the Long Now Foundation, a non-profit created just to work on the clock and promote long-term thinking. But there was no takers on actually building a full-scale 10,000-year clock until Bezos stepped up to the plate, putting some $42 million toward the unique project.

Contractors began machining components for the clock last year, which include the 8-foot stainless steel gears and the Geneva wheels that will ring the chimes. Also, computers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have spent months calculating the Sun's position in the sky at noon every day for the next 10,000 years, data the clock will use to stay accurate.

Excavation in the Texas desert where the clock will be housed has also begun, and just last month, the Smithsonian agreed to let the Long Now Foundation install a 10,000-year clock in one of its Washington museums, once they can find someone to fund it.

Building a clock that will run for 10,000 years is no small feat. In Texas, builders have started drilling an access tunnel into the base of the ridge where the clock will go. A pilot hole will also be drilled, going straight down from the top of the ridge, until it meets the access tunnel. And then will bring a 12'7" bit into the bottom and drill back up, carving out a vertical shaft.

Once that phase is complete, builders will install a movable platform holding a 2.5-ton robot arm with stonecutting saw attached at the end. The arm/saw will begin carving out a spiral staircase into the vertical shaft, from top to bottom, one step at a time.

The clock will have massive metal gears, a huge stone weight, and precise, titanium escapement inside a protective quartz box, that will go into the shaft. The work is scheduled to be complete within a few years, at which time the clock will be set in motion.

Bezos ponders about the future: "In the year 4000, you'll go see this clock and you'll wonder, "ËœWhy on Earth did they build this?"

The answer, he hopes, will lead you to think more profoundly about the distant future and your effects on it.


Image Caption: Entrance to a series of tunnels and chambers being created within the mountain.


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