Engineers and contractors are building a massive, multi-room clock inside a mountain in West Texas—a clock that will tell time for the next 10,000 years. And despite an informal website with a whiff of Blogspot template, this is a Jeff Bezos project.
There are a lot of surprises in the story of the Clock of the Long Now. It’s the brainchild of Danny Hillis, a computer scientist and entrepreneur who first imagined the 10,000-year clock in 1986. Now, he’s a visiting professor at MIT Media Lab with a reputation for building supercomputers, autonomous dinosaur robots, and Disney theme park rides. He’s exactly the kind of guy who decides he wants to build a huge eon clock in a mountain.
How does the clock work? Well, the longness of the time involved is the big engineering challenge. The clock is designed to tick just once a year and chime once per millennium. Experts are blasting rooms out of the interior of the mountain in order to install steampunky piles of gears and flywheels.
According to Bezos, the Amazon founder and richest man on the planet, the clock will be 500 feet tall, “all mechanical, powered by day/night thermal cycles,” and “synchronized at solar noon.”
It’s like the chambers inside the Great Pyramid at Giza were filled with parts envisioned by H.G. Wells. The website doesn’t list a timeline of any kind, but has a signup for a mailing list for when it’s finished, “many years into the future.”
Hillis started the Long Now Foundation in 1996 to act as an administrative support for his 10,000-year clock. The first working version went online in 1999. Wired reported in depth on the clock and the longtime friendship between Hillis and Bezos, in 2011: “[A]round 2005, the pair got serious and started making plans to build a clock on Bezos’ property” in the Sierra Diablo Mountain Range.
Bezos explained the clock as a way to remind people that the far future not only exists, but will happen to their descendants.
The clock itself, though, seems a lot more like a Howard Hughes-like whim or a Crazy Horse Memorial kind of distant vision. “Visiting the Clock will take a commitment,” the website reads. “The nearest airport is several hours away by car, and the foot trail to the Clock is rugged, rising almost 2,000 feet above the valley floor.”
Construction on the clock began back in 2018, with no end in sight. It probably won’t take, say, another 10,000 years, but you’ll be waiting a while to visit the monument—if you can get there, of course. That remote location is so the clock can be built on Bezos’s own land, but it sounds like, by design, most people will never be able to ever see the clock in person.