Jeff Bezos, he of Amazon.com fame, has decided to finance and provide the locale for what is known as the 10,000 year clock. The clock has a number of what can only be described as unique features, and will be housed in a mountain. The first thing you need to know is the clock is a mechanical timepiece not intended to measure time in the traditional sense. The first question you need to ask yourself is whether this clock is a work of engineering or a work of art.
The 10,000 year clock is the idea of Danny Hillis, an inventor who began building the prototype of the clock in 1989 and complete it in 1999. Since then, the idea of moving it to the next level has been dormant. But thanks to billionaire Jeff Bezos, the project has a $42 million injection of cash to move from an 8 foot prototype to a 200 foot high, actual working model. There are only five “phases” to the lock’s movement. It moves once every year, then once every 10, 100, 1000, and finally, 10,000 years. The movement of the clock will be animated through a model of the solar system, and future animations will be decided by future generations. When the clock strikes 10,000 a cuckoo bird will emerge, announcing the end of the first 10,000 year cycle.
A mountain has been chosen because the clock needs to be isolated as much as possible from the effects of weather and temperature change that could damage the metal or interfere with the movement of the clock. A combination of stainless steel and ceramic materials will be used in building the structure to further ensure the movement of the clock will not be inhibited.
According to Bezos, “It’s a special clock, designed to be a symbol, an icon for long-term thinking.” This statement would seem to make it more of a work of art than an actual timepiece because future generations will be able to see it no matter if the 10,000 year clock runs into any mechanical problems or not. The symbol will remain, even if it is damaged. That means the first priority is to get the clock constructed. The mechanical bugs can be worked out over time.
The good news is that everyone can visit the clock once it is completed, so while it is being privately financed, it is for public consumption – now and for the next 10,000 years. One problem that needs to be worked out is making the physical journey accessible to the public, as it is more than 2,000 feet above sea level, and there is no direct access route to the mountain. The public will have to make a climb through rugged terrain to get to the site. The nearest starting point is a foot trail that takes a number of hours to get to by car from a distant airport. It is reasonable to expect some type of conveyance will be constructed to make the journey easier. Whether or not this travel plan will be paid for by the same oublic who will use it is a question yet to be answered.
Another point of positivity from this project is that there are two teams working to make the project become a reality. One team will be digging out the mountain while the other will be constructing the clock. This means some long term employment for a number of people in California and Washington. There is no definite timetable for completion as it is almost certain there will be obstacles that will be encountered.
If you are wondering why someone would construct a clock that costs millions of dollars and has no immediate impact in solving the world’s current problems of hunger, disease, and school shootings, you are not alone. History has shown us that there are many works of art that fetch millions of dollars at auctions. The same history has us looking amazed at structures such as the Great Pyramids of Egypt and have us asking what was the purpose of their construction thousands of years later. The best reasons historians and archeologists have come up with is the structures were the result of kings and pharaohs who wanted their names to be emblazoned in the annals of history. To put it more simply, they did it because they could.
Please do not try and make this an issue of economic disparity between the rich and poor of the world. In the current economic system, everyone has the opportunity to work hard, come up with an idea, and make a significant profit from their efforts. Whatever anyone does with their hard earned income is their business. Jeff Bezos will be the one that history remembers as making the clock possible, just like the pharaohs of old have their names connected with the pyramids. We know they amassed great wealth, like Bezos, and they had others build their personal dreams, as Bezos is doing. And the 10,000 year clock, like the pyramids, will likely be standing 10,000 years from now and have people asking the same question. “Why?”