Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins

Posted on February 20th, 02018 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
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“The Long Now is the recognition that the precise moment you’re in grows out of the past and is a seed for the future.”

                  – Brian Eno (founding board member of The Long Now Foundation)

After over a decade of design and fabrication, we have begun installing the first parts of the Clock of the Long Now on site in West Texas.  In this video you can see the first elements to be assembled underground, the drive weight, winder and main gearing.  This is the first of many stages to be installed, and we continue to fabricate parts for the rest of the Clock in several shops along the west coast.

The 10,000 Year Clock was conceived by Long Now co-founder Danny Hillis as an icon to long-term thinking, and the first prototype of the Clock now resides in the Science Museum in London.  This monument scale version, built in partnership with Long Now supporter Jeff Bezos, began with construction of the underground site itself, and is now moving into the installation phase.

This monument scale Clock is designed to run for ten millennia with minimal maintenance and interruption. The Clock is powered by mechanical energy harvested from the temperature difference from day to night, as well as the people that visit it. The primary materials used in the Clock are special grades of stainless steel, titanium and dry running ceramic ball bearings.

The Long Now Foundation was founded in 01996 as a non-profit dedicated to encouraging long-term thinking and responsibility. The 10,000 Year Clock is one of our many projects which include long-term data archiving, documenting endangered languages, and producing events and media that engage the long-term future. Long Now is entirely funded by donations and the support of more than 9000 members around the world. Find out more at

Some of the engineers and fabricators seen this video include:

Jascha Little: Power System Lead Engineer

Brian Ford: Lead Install Engineer

Jake Faw: Machinist and Install

Alexander Rose: Project Design and Install

Sean Riley: Lead Rigging Design

Dave Freitag: Rigger

Aaron Griffith: Site Supervisor

We would also like to thank the amazing people, partners, shops, and artisans that we have worked with over the years to make these parts and the underground site.  Without all their devoted efforts and attention to detail this work would not be possible.

  • Applied Invention
  • Machinist Inc.
  • Rand Machine Works
  • Swaggart Brothers Construction
  • Seattle Solstice
  • Bollinger Atelier
  • NW Precast
  • CG Mechanical
  • Boca Bearings
  • LMI
  • Autodesk


Video Production by Sustainability Media
Director of photography: Chris Baldwin
Photography and editing: Jesse Chandler

How Warren Buffett Won His Multi-Million Dollar Long Bet

Posted on February 17th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Long Bets   chat 0 Comments

This year, Warren Buffett won his multi-million dollar, decade-long Long Bet.

From the preacher warning that the day of reckoning is nigh, to the sports analyst prognosticating about the outcome of next week’s big game, to the fortune teller calling for hard times in Mercury retrograde, predictions are pervasive, but accountability is rare. That the vast majority of predictions fail to come true is hardly a deterrent; we tend to remember the few that do.

This is a story about a prediction that was made ten years ago, on the eve of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, by Warren Buffett, one of the three richest people in the world. Unlike most predictions, Buffett’s came to pass. And unlike most predictors, Buffett was willing to put his money where his mouth was.

I. The Oracle of Omaha

InMay 02006, some 20,000 investors convened, as they did every year, at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting to hear the Oracle of Omaha hold forth. After issuing prophecies on matters such as whether to invest in newspapers (don’t), and a looming housing bubble (there would be), Berkshire Hathaway CEO and legendary investor Warren Buffett took aim at hedge fund managers and the exorbitant fees they charged investors for their supposed expertise in beating the market.

The scene at the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting. Sarah Hoffman/The World-Herald

If your wife is going to have a baby,” Buffett said, “you’d be better to call an obstetrician than do it yourself. If your pipes leak, you should call a plumber.Most professions add value beyond what the average person can do for themselves. But in aggregate, the investment profession does not do this — despite $140 billion in total annual compensation.

Every hedge fund manager believes they’ll be the exception that outperforms the market, Buffett said, even after taking into account the high fees they charge. Some certainly do. But over time, and in aggregate, the “math doesn’t work.”

Warren Buffett at the Berkshire Hathaway annual shareholders meeting in Omaha in 2015. Bloomberg via Getty images

Buffett said he was willing to bet anyone $500,000 that over ten years, an S&P index fund would outperform a collection of hedge funds. An index fund, at low-risk and low-cost, neither underperforming nor overperforming the market, has been called the “most boring fund there is.” It simply follows the market’s undulations, for better or for worse. And, since it’s not actively managed, the fees are a fraction of something like a hedge fund. In Buffet’s eyes, that’s almost always a better investment than trusting the experts.

As he wrote in his 02017 Berkshire Hathaway annual report:

Over the years, I’ve often been asked for investment advice, and in the process of answering I’ve learned a good deal about human behavior. My regular recommendation has been a low-cost S&P 500 index fund. To their credit, my friends who possess only modest means have usually followed my suggestion.

I believe, however, that none of the mega-rich individuals, institutions or pension funds has followed that same advice when I’ve given it to them. Instead, these investors politely thank me for my thoughts and depart to listen to the siren song of a high-fee manager or, in the case of many institutions, to seek out another breed of hyper-helper called a consultant.

Buffett didn’t have any takers that weekend, nor in the months that followed. But in July 02007, Ted Seides, a principal at investment firm Protégé Partners, wrote Buffett to say he was in. “For hedge funds, success can mean outperforming the market in lean times, while underperforming in the best of times,” Seides later wrote in his official argument against Buffett’s bet. “Through a cycle, nevertheless, top hedge fund managers have surpassed market returns net of all fees, while assuming less risk as well. We believe such results will continue.”

Seides reasoned that Protégé would have an eighty-five percent chance of winning. And anyway, the bet would doubtless garner Protégé a lot of publicity.

Ted Seides and Warren Buffett. Fortune

The question then became how to place the bet legally and publicly. Betting where bettors keep the money winnings is defined as gambling and is illegal throughout the United States. Though some may do it under the table, Buffett and Protégé wanted the bet to play out in the public, with their reputations on the line. For that, there was really only one game in town: Long BetsThe Long Now Foundation’s public arena for competitive predictions of interest to society. Each side picks a charity, and the winnings go to the winner’s charity choice. That was just fine with Buffett and Protégé. $1 million might make a substantial difference in most people’s lives, but it’s a different story when a man with a net worth in the tens of billions of dollars takes on a hedge fund. After all, this bet wasn’t about the money. It was about being right.

II. Wanna Bet?

The story of Long Bets begins, appropriately, with a bet. In 01995, Kevin Kelly, then-Executive Editor of Wired, was interviewing self-described neo-luddite Kirkpatrick Sale, who believed the end of the world was imminent. In the interview, Sale said that by 02020, humanity would suffer “multinational global currency collapse, social friction and warfare both between the rich and the poor and within nations, and […] continent-wide environmental disasters causing death and great migrations of people” — a perspective that, suffice it to say, Kelly did not share.

“Would you be willing to bet on your view?” Kelly asked.

Sale said he was. Kelly pulled out a check for $1,000. The exchange was left in the interview for Wired’s readers to see.

Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Long Bets. Christopher Michel

“The bet forced both of us to refine strongly held beliefs, and because our predictions were now public, our reputations were on the line,” Kelly later wrote. “This is what public wagers can do: sharpen logic, filter out the halfhearted. Sometimes they can even alter collective views and shape society.”

As Kelly notes, there’s a long history of these kinds of public wagers, particularly in science. In 01600, astronomer Johannes Kepler bet his rival Christian Longomontanus that he could derive the formula for the solar orbit of Mars in eight days. It took him five years. Kepler lost the bet, but his calculations ultimately helped bring about modern astronomy. In 01870, flat earther John Hampden made a 500 pound bet with naturalist Alfred Russel Wallace (who, it should be noted, conceived of the theory of evolution independent of Darwin) that he could prove the Earth was flat using the Bedford Level Experiment. Hampden lost the bet, insisted that Wallace cheated, and ultimately was imprisoned for threatening to kill Wallace. The myth of the flat earth was laid to rest, albeit temporarily.

The results from the Bedford Level Experiment confounded scientists for 30 years before it was realized that it is merely an optical refraction effect. Lateral Science

More recently, there’s the bet that biologist and environmentalist Paul Ehrlich made with economist Julian Simon in 01980. Ehrlich bet Simon $10,000 that the prices of five metals (copper, chromium, nickel, tin, and tungsten) would increase over a decade. The prices declined sharply, and Simon won the bet.

The Simon-Ehrlich wager.

The wager received a lot of publicity over the decade, and the result ultimately shaped societal thinking around limited resources. “Simon was a prolific skeptic of environmentalism,” Kelly wrote, “yet nothing that he ever wrote had as much impact on the course of culture as his wager with Ehrlich. That single, relatively small bet transformed the environmental movement by casting doubt on the notion of resource scarcity.” (Although, if the bet were repeated in subsequent decades, Ehrlich would have won, given the rise in commodity prices. On a long enough timescale, however, it’s one more blip in a multiple-centuries-long trend towards decreasing prices).

Kevin Kelly, Stewart Brand, and Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose. Gary Wilson

Both Kelly and Long Now Foundation co-founder Stewart Brand were intrigued by the Simon-Ehrlich bet and the public accountability and long-term thinking it made possible. (Ehrlich was Brand’s teacher and mentor at Stanford, and his concerns around resource scarcity and overpopulation were ones Brand used to share). Brand formulated the idea that would become Long Bets in an email to the Long Now board in May 02001:

People bet people about things that will happen farther in the future than the horserace next weekend. Peter Schwartz almost bet Hunter Lovins today about when electric-drive autos will be the norm — -in 10–20 years or in 15–25 years.

If Long Now offered a Longbets holding service, they could have bet, say $1,000, with the outcome to be decided in 02016. The money, the bet, and a fee could be placed with Long Now. The money draws interest in behalf of the eventual winner, minus a maintenance fee to Long Now. Long Now robots keep track of Peter and Hunter. As 2016 approaches the file wakes up and contacts them to begin negotiation toward resolution of the bet. If they don’t resolve, the amount is split 50–50. If they resolve, winner takes all. If only one of the two can be found, that person gets the winnings by default. If neither can be found, the money is held a while longer and then is absorbed into Long Now.

I bet it will work.

It did. Brand founded Long Bets in 02002 with Kevin Kelly and a little seeding assistance from Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. The forum asks all predictors to put their name, a solid argument, and a financial pledge down in support of their statement about the future. Long Now, in turn, provides a long-term record where any prediction can be revisited, reviewed, and discussed at any time.

A Long Bet always starts with a prediction. All predictions should come with an argument in support, a financial pledge, and an end-date. The minimum term for a prediction is two years; there is no maximum term.

A prediction becomes a bet when a challenger comes forward with a counterargument. The predictor may then choose to make a bet with the challenger. The predictor and challenger will agree on a wager, and each will choose a charitable cause to receive the winnings.

When the end-date for the bet passes, The Long Now Foundation adjudicates the bet and donates the proceeds to the winner’s charity of choice.

Long Bet #2.
Long Bet #7.
Long Bet #11.
Long Bet #382.
Long Bet #712.

The Long Bets site offers a public record of all predictions and bets. It highly encourages discussion about what we may learn, or what we have learned, from bets and their outcomes. This discussion feeds improvement of long-term thinking — the real pay-off.

The bets on Long Bets range from the serious, inculcating questions about what it means to be human, to the playful. The first Long Bet on record was between Mitchell Kapor, co-founder of The Electronic Frontier Foundation, and the futurist Ray Kurzweil, who popularized the idea of the technological singularity. Kapor bet Kurzweil $10,000 that by 02029, no computer — or “machine intelligence” — will have passed the Turing test (the test conceived in 01950 by mathematician Alan Turing that tests whether a machine is capable of human intelligence).

Long Bet #1.

The first winner of a Long Bet was actor and Red Sox fanatic Ted Danson. In 02002, the late Time Editor Michael Elliott bet Danson $1,000 that the U.S. Men’s soccer team would win the World Cup before the Red Sox win the World Series. “The Red Sox have had such bad luck in the 20th century,” Danson argued, “I have to believe that in the new millennium it can only get better.” Danson would be vindicated a mere two years later.

Long Bet #8.

The stakes of Long Bets typically ranged in the hundreds and thousands of dollars. Through 02007, the largest bet was the Kurzweil-Kapor Turing test bet. Then along came Warren Buffett.

III. The Tortoise and the Hare

Buffett invested in the Vanguard index fund. Protégé picked five hedge funds of funds (whose names have never been publicly disclosed — although Buffett does see their annual audits).

Buffett and Protégé initially wagered an investment of $320,000 each that was expected become $1 million at the end of the bet. Seides chose the charity Absolute Return for Kids, a London-based philanthropic organization. Buffett chose Girls, Inc. from his hometown of Omaha.

“Buffett’s bet is an ideal Long Bet,” Kevin Kelly wrote once the bet was announced. “It makes a huge difference to anyone who invests in stocks (as do a large percentage of the US, either directly or indirectly) whether a boring index fund yields as much as fancy private hedge funds. The answer either way would be a huge influential signal.”

Carol Loomis, a friend of Buffett’s and reporter for Fortune, wrote at the time that, despite Seides’ confidence that Protégé would win easily, the hedge fund fees Buffett railed against were a significant hurdle. Further, because Protégé chose funds of funds, there was a second level of fees that would be imposed:

On top of the management fee, the hedge funds typically collect 20% of any gains they make. That leaves 80% for the investors. The fund of funds takes 5% (or more) of that 80% as its share of the gains. The upshot is that only 76% (at most) of the annual return made on an investor’s money accrues to him, with the rest going to the “helpers” that Buffett has written about. Meanwhile, the investor is paying his inexorable management fee of 2.5% on capital. The summation is pretty obvious. For Protégé to win this bet, the five funds of funds it has picked must do much, much better than the S&P.

Once the bet was officially announced, the webpage was flooded with comments and vigorous debate. “Voting Against Buffet? [sic],” Louise Murphy commented. “Am quite a novice when it comes to hedge funds and such, but I would never vote against one Warren Buffett. Time will tell.” It was a sentiment many shared.

“Fortunately for us, we’re betting against the S&P’s performance,” Seides said at the time. “Not Buffett’s.”

\The 02008 Financial Crisis hit soon after the bet began. Business Insider UK

In the initial going, the S&P performed horribly. The global financial crisis intensified by November 02008, leaving the S&P down 45% from its 02007 high. After the first year, Protégé fund of funds trounced Buffett’s index fund. But all things considered, it was a bad year for both, with Buffett down 37% and Protégé down 23.9%. Buffett maintained his sense of humor.

“I just hope that Aesop was right,” he said, “when he envisioned the tortoise overtaking the hare.”

He was. Buffett steadily gained ground in the years that followed, finally overtaking Protégé in the bet’s fifth year. And he never looked back. By 02017, it was clear that, short of another collapse in the stock market, Buffett would prevail.

The final scorecard for the bet.

Over the decade-long bet, the index fund returned 7.1% compounded annually. Protégé funds returned an average of only 2.2% net of all fees. Buffett had made his point. When looking at returns, fees are often ignored or obscured. And when that money is not re-invested each year with the principal, it can almost never overtake an index fund if you take the long view.

“In my opinion, the disappointing results for hedge-fund investors that this bet exposed are almost certain to recur in the future,” Buffett said in last year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual report. “When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds.”

Seides, meanwhile, thinks Buffett just got lucky, and that the S&P’s performance over the previous decade “vastly overperformed” his expectations. “My guess is that doubling down on a bet with Warren Buffett for the next 10 years would hold greater-than-even odds of victory,” he wrote in his 02017 concession essay.

Perhaps. Buffett, as you might expect, feels otherwise.

“Human behavior won’t change,” he said. “Wealthy individuals, pension funds, endowments and the like will continue to feel they deserve something ‘extra’ in investment advice. Those advisors who cleverly play to this expectation will get very rich. This year the magic potion may be hedge funds, next year something else. The likely result from this parade of promises is predicted in an adage: When a person with money meets a person with experience, the one with experience ends up with the money and the one with money leaves with experience.

Left: Warren Buffett and Long Now Executive Director Alexander Rose present the $2.2 million check to Girls Inc. of Omaha on February 16, 02018.

And what of the winnings? As it happens, the bond value of the initial wager appreciated faster than expected, resulting in shifting the investment strategy and growing the winnings to $2.2 million.

It’s a huge win for long-term thinking. But it’s an even bigger win for Girls Inc. of Omaha, which has an annual operating budget of $2.8 million. Protégé, Buffett and Long Now’s Executive Director Alexander Rose settled the bet on Friday, February 16, 02018 at Girls Inc. headquarters.

Long Now co-founder Danny Hillis, Jeffrey Tarrant of Protégé, Alexander Rose, and Warren and Susie Buffett at the Girls Inc. of Omaha check event on February 16, 02018.

“I just told [Executive Director Roberta Wilhelm] to use it where it’s going to do the most good,” said Buffett.

The sum will be used to help renovate an old convent into a transitional home for girls as they age out of foster care. It will be called the Protégé House.

Learn More

  • Do you have strong opinions about the future? Put your money where your mouth is. Make a bet with Long Bets here.
  • Listen to Planet Money’s primer on the Bet.
  • Read Wired’s 02002 Long Bets profile.
  • Read Long Now’s year-by-year accounting of the bet.
  • Read Warren Buffett’s 02018 Annual Report, where he shares his lessons from the bet.

Warren Buffett Wins Multi-Million Dollar Long Bet

Posted on February 9th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Announcements, Long Bets   chat 0 Comments

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. February 9, 02018.* The Long Now Foundation today announced that it has arrived at a decision for Long Bets #362, popularly known as the “Million Dollar Buffett Bet,” between Warren Buffett and Protégé Partners LLC. Warren Buffett has won the bet, and by a significant margin.

In the bet, Warren Buffett predicted that “Over a ten-year period commencing on January 1, 02008, and ending on December 31, 02017, the S&P 500 will outperform a portfolio of funds of hedge funds, when performance is measured on a basis net of fees, costs and expenses.”

Warren Buffett invested in the Vanguard index fund. Protégé picked five hedge fund of funds (whose names have never been publicly disclosed—although Buffett does see their annual audits).

While Protégé’s position pulled ahead in the early years of the bet, which occurred during the global financial collapse, Buffett’s position more than made up for it, taking the lead for the first time in the bet’s fifth year. Over the decade-long bet, the index fund returned 7.1% compounded annually. Protégé funds returned an average of only 2.2% net of all fees. Buffett’s point, which was well-illustrated, is that when looking at returns, fees are often ignored or obscured. And when that money is not re-invested each year with the principal, it can almost never overtake an index fund if you take the long view.

“In my opinion, the disappointing results for hedge-fund investors that this bet exposed are almost certain to recur in the future,” Buffett said in last year’s Berkshire Hathaway annual report. “When trillions of dollars are managed by Wall Streeters charging high fees, it will usually be the managers who reap outsized profits, not the clients. Both large and small investors should stick with low-cost index funds.”

Girls Inc. of Omaha

Buffett and Protégé initially wagered an investment that would become $1 million at the end of the bet, but the bond value appreciated faster than expected, resulting in shifting the investment strategy and growing the winnings to $2.2 million. The winnings will go to the charity of Buffett’s choosing, Girls Inc. of Omaha. Given that Girls Inc. currently has an operating budget of $2.8 million annually, the winnings will go a long way in furthering the charity’s mission to inspire girls to be “strong, smart and bold.”

“Long Bets is honored to have hosted this decade-long wager,” said Alexander Rose, Executive Director of The Long Now Foundation. “It is both gratifying to see long-term thinking winning the bet, and to have such a great outcome for the worthy charity receiving the winning stakes.”

About Long Bets

Long Bets is a public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake. The Long Now Foundation furnishes the continuity to see even the longest bets through to public resolution.

The Long Bets forum is intended as a tool to improve long-term thinking. We often make statements about the future, but there’s little that compels us to really think about what we say: even the craziest statements will never have to be revisited. We only remember the tiny fraction of statements that turn out to be correct, leading us to think all predictions generally come true.

Long Bets is changing all this by encouraging us to hold ourselves accountable for the predictions we make. We ask all predictors to put their name, a solid argument, and a financial pledge down in support of their statement about the future. And Long Now, in turn, provides a long-term record where any prediction can be revisited, reviewed, and discussed at any time.

How to make a Long Bet

A Long Bet always starts with a prediction. Anyone can visit the Long Bets website and click on “Make a prediction.” All predictions should come with an argument in support, a financial pledge, and an end-date. The minimum term for a prediction is two years; there is no maximum term.

A prediction becomes a bet when a challenger comes forward with a counterargument. The predictor may then choose to make a bet with the challenger. The predictor and challenger will agree on a wager, and each will choose a charitable cause to receive the winnings.

When the end-date for the bet passes, The Long Now Foundation will adjudicate the bet and donate the proceeds to the winner’s charity of choice.

The Long Bets site offers a public record of all predictions and bets. We highly encourage discussion about what we may learn, or what we have learned, from bets and their outcomes. This is what feeds improvement of long-term thinking—the real pay-off.

*The Long Now Foundation uses five-digit dates. The extra zero is to solve the deca-millennium bug which will come into effect in about 8,000 years.

Edge Question 02018

Posted on February 7th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Long Term Science, Long Term Thinking, Long-term Quotes   chat 0 Comments

John Brockman.

For the last twenty years, literary agent John Brockman has presented the members of his online salon Edge with a question that elicits discussion about some of the biggest intellectual and scientific issues of our time.(Previous prompts include “What scientific term or concept ought to be more widely known?” or “What should we be worried about?”).

The essay responses — in excess of a hundred each year — offer a wealth of insight into the direction of today’s cultural forces, scientific innovations, and global trends.

Brockman’s interest in asking questions traces back to the late 01960s and the work of his friend, the late conceptual artist/philosopher James Lee Byars. In 01968, Byars launched a one-hour Belgian television program called the “World Question Center.” He explained the thinking behind the program as follows:

To arrive at an axiology of the world’s knowledge, seek out the most complex and sophisticated minds, put them in a room together, and have them ask each other the questions they are asking themselves.”

“Chrysanthemum” by Katinka Matson |

This year’s question will be Edge’s last. And this time, Brockman’s doing something a little different.

“After twenty years, I’ve run out of questions,” Brockman writes. “So, for the finale to a noteworthy Edge project, can you ask ‘The Last Question’? Your last question, the question for which you’ll be remembered.”

That’s right: instead of answering Brockman’s annual question, Edge Salon contributors are providing their own questions as answers.

This year’s extensive collection of “answers” includes contributions by several Long Now Board members, fellows, and past and future speakers from our Seminars About Long-Term Thinking speaker series:

What is the Last Question?

Chris Anderson,¹ author, entrepreneur and Emeritus Member of the Long Now Board of Directors, asks:

How can we put rational prices on human lives without becoming inhuman?

Complexity scientist Samuel Arbesman² asks:

How do we best build a civilization that is galvanized by long-term thinking?

Writer and cultural anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson³ asks:

Will the process of discovery be completed in any of the natural sciences?

Stewart Brand,⁴ co-founder and President of Long Now and Revive & Restore, asks:

Can wild animals that are large and dangerous be made averse to threatening humans?

Brian Christian,⁵ co-author of Algorithms To Live By, asks:

Is the unipolar future of a “singleton” the inevitable destiny of intelligent life?

The geneticist George Church, who is working with Revive & Restore on reviving extinct species, asks:

What will we do as an encore once we manage to develop technological solutions to infection, aging, poverty, asteroids, and heat death of the universe?

Jared Diamond,⁶ author of Guns, Germs and Steel, asks:

Why is there such widespread public opposition to science and scientific reasoning in the United States, the world leader in every major branch of science?

Physicist Freeman Dyson⁷ asks:

Is it ultimately possible for life to bend the shape of the universe to fit life’s purposes, as we are now bending the shape of our environment here on earth?

Science historian George Dyson⁸ asks:

Why are there no trees in the ocean?

Neuroscientist and Long Now Board Member David Eagleman⁹ asks:

Can we create new senses for humans — not just touch, taste, vision, hearing, smell, but totally novel qualia for which we don’t yet have words?

Musician and Long Now Co-Founder Brian Eno¹⁰ asks:

Have we left the Age of Reason, never to return?

Academic, businessman and author Juan Enriquez¹¹ asks:

So, before The Singularity…?

Linguist Daniel L. Everett¹² asks:

Will humans ever embrace their own diversity?

Neuroscientist and philosopher Sam Harris¹³ asks:

Is the actual all that is possible?

Inventor and Long Now Co-Founder W. Daniel Hillis¹⁴ asks:

What is the principle that causes complex adaptive systems (life, organisms, minds, societies) to spontaneously emerge from the interaction of simpler elements (chemicals, cells, neurons, individual humans)?

Futurist and Long Now Board Member Kevin Kelly¹⁵ asks:

How can the process of science be improved?

Margaret Levi,¹⁶ Director of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences (CASBS) at Stanford, asks :

Are humans capable of building a moral economy?

Technology reporter John Markoff¹⁷ asks:

How will the world be changed when battery storage technology improves at the same exponential rate seen in computer chips in recent decades?

Theoretical astrophysicist Priyamvada Natarajan¹⁸ asks:

Are there limits to what we can know about the universe?

Futurist Tim O’Reilly¹⁹ asks:

How can AI and other digital technologies help us create global institutions that we can trust?

Religious historian Elaine Pagels²⁰ asks:

Why is religion still around in the twenty-first century?

Cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker²¹ asks:

How can we empower the better angels of our nature?

Planetary scientist Carolyn Porco²² asks:

What will it take for us to be fully confident that we have found life elsewhere in the cosmos?

Royal Astronomer Martin Rees²³ asks:

Will post-humans be organic or electronic?

Futurist and Long Now Board Member paul saffo²⁴ asks:

Will we ever be able to predict earthquakes?

Businessman and Long Now Board Member Peter Schwartz²⁵ asks:

Is the universe relatively simple and comprehensible by the human brain, or is it so complex, higher dimensional and multiversal that it remains forever illusive to humans?

Science writer Michael Shermer²⁶ asks:

Would you like to live 1,000 years?

Science fiction author Bruce Sterling²⁷ asks:

Do the laws of physics change with the passage of time?

Biotechnologist and geneticist J. Craig Venter²⁸ asks:

Will the creation of a super-human class from a combination of genome editing and direct biological-machine interfaces lead to the collapse of civilization?

Theoretical physicist Geoffrey B. West²⁹ asks:

How and when will it end or will it persist indefinitely?

Science writer Carl Zimmer³⁰ asks:

How does the past give rise to the future?

These are just a few of this year’s thought-provoking answers; you can read the full collection here.

Long Now Foundation talks by this year’s Edge contributors (Most are available to watch for free online):

[1] Chris Anderson spoke at Long Now about “The Makers Revolution” (02013) and “The Long Time Tail” (02006).

[2] Samuel Arbesman spoke at The Interval about “Technology at the Limits of Comprehension” (02016). Note: video not yet available.

[3] Mary Catherine Bateson gave a Long Now talk titled “Live Longer, Think Longer” (02011).

[4] Stewart Brand has spoken at Long Now on several occasions: “Pace Layers Thinking” (02015), “Reviving Extinct Species” (02013), “Long Finance” (02010, with Alexander Rose and Brian Eno), “Rethinking Green” (02009), and “Cities and Time” (02005).

[5] Brian Christian spoke at Long Now on “Algorithms To Live By” (02016).

[6] Jared Diamond spoke at Long Now on “How Societies Fail — And Sometimes Succeed” (02005).

[7] Freeman Dyson spoke at Long Now with his children Esther and George Dyson on “The Difficulty in Looking Far Ahead” (02005).

[8] In addition to speaking with his father and sister in 02005 (see footnote 7), George Dyson spoke at Long Now about “The Digital Universe and Why Things Appear to Be Speeding Up” (02013) and “Long-term Thinking About Large-scale Computing” (02004).

[9] David Eagleman spoke at Long Now on “The Brain and the Now” (02016) and “Six Easy Steps to Avert the Collapse of Civilization” (02010).

[10] Brian Eno has spoken at Long Now on several occasions: “The Long Now, now” (02014, with Danny Hillis), “Long Finance” (02010, with Stewart Brand and Alexander Rose), “Playing with Time” (02006, with Will Wright), and “The Long Now” (02003).

[11] Juan Enriquez spoke at Long Now about “Mapping the Frontier of Knowledge” (02007).

[12] Daniel L. Everett spoke at Long Now about “Endangered Languages, Lost Knowledge, and the Future” (02009).

[13] Sam Harris spoke at Long Now about “The View from the End of the World” (02005).

[14] Danny Hillis spoke at Long Now about “The Long Now, now” (02014, with Brian Eno) and “Progress on the 10,000 Year Clock” (02004).

[15] Kevin Kelly spoke at Long Now about “The Next 30 Digital Years” (02016), “Technium Unbound” (02014), and “The Next 100 Years of Science” (02006).

[16] Margaret Levi spoke at The Interval about “The Organized Pursuit of Knowledge” (02017).

[17] John Markoff spoke at The Interval about “The Quest for Common Ground between Humans and Robots” (02015). Note: video not yet available.

[18] Priyamvada Natarajan spoke at Long Now about “Solving Dark Matter and Dark Energy” (02016).

[19] Tim O’Reilly spoke at Long Now on “The Birth of the Global Mind” (02012) and at The Interval on “Maps and Metaphors” (02018). Note: video from O’Reilly’s Interval talk not yet available.

[20] Elaine Pagels spoke at Long Now about “The Truth About The Book of Revelations” (02012).

[21] Steven Pinker spoke at Long Now about “The Decline of Violence” (02012) and will be speaking be speaking at Long Now on “A New Enlightenment” on March 13, 02018.

[22] Carolyn Porco spoke at Long Now about “Searching for Life in the Solar System” (02017).

[23] Martin Rees spoke at Long Now about “Life’s Future in the Cosmos” (02010).

[24] Paul Saffo spoke at Long Now about “The Creator Economy” (02015), “Pace Layers Thinking” (02015, with Stewart Brand), and “Embracing Uncertainty” (02008).

[25] Peter Schwartz has spoken at Long Now on several occasions: “The Starships ARE Coming” (02013), “Historian vs. Futurist on Human Progress” (02008, with Niall Ferguson), “Nuclear Power, Climate Change, and the Next 10,000 Years” (02006, with Ralph Cavanagh), and “The Art of the Really Long View” (02003).

[26] Michael Shermer spoke at Long Now about “The Long Arc of Moral Progress” (02015).

[27] Bruce Sterling spoke at Long Now about “The Singularity” (02004).

[28] Craig Venter spoke at Long Now about “Joining 3.5 Billion Years of Microbial Invention” (02008).

[29] Geoffrey West spoke at Long Now about “The Universal Laws of Growth and Pace” (02017) and “Why Cities Keep Growing, Corporations Always Die, and Life Gets Faster” (02011).

[30] Carl Zimmer spoke at Long Now about “Viral Time” (02011).

Nicky Case: The Attractors Behind Disasters

Posted on January 25th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
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Why do disasters like blackouts and financial crises cascade so quickly, but fixing them takes so long? The answer, game developer Nicky Case says, is “attractors”—the parts of a complex system that attract the system towards failure.



Largest Early World Map Set to Be Unveiled at Rumsey Map Center

Posted on January 24th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
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Urbano Monte’s planisphere, digitally stitched together. Source: Rumsey Map Center

On July 25, 01585, near the end of a century of unprecedented change, four Japanese boys stopped in Milan on their way back home to Japan. They’d been sent as the first Japanese Embassy to Europe three years earlier by the Jesuit missionary Alesandro Valignano. Their European tour took them through Spain, where they met King Philip II, and to Rome, where they met with the Pope. Now, in Milan, they encountered Urbano Monte, a gentleman scholar from a wealthy Milanese family whose interests had lately turned to geography. Writing about meeting the Japanese boys, Monte “commented on their appearance and manners; the former he found odd but he thought their manners impressive and their eating habits fascinating.”

Detail of Tavola XXXXII (Antarctica, Urbano Monte Portraits of 1587 and 1589).

The encounter with the Japanese embassy inspired Monte to undertake an ambitious project that would consume his efforts for the next twenty years: the Trattato Universale, a four-volume compendium and geographical treatise that attempted to showcase the entire geographic knowledge of the world. The third volume of the Trattato contained his most impressive and innovative work: a map of the world across sixty individual sheets that, were it to be stitched together as his instructions dictated, would be the largest world map made in the sixteenth century.

But Monte’s project was largely forgotten by history, and his life and work rarely studied. His world map was hidden away in an atlas for centuries, the bound pages belying the visionary scope contained within. In September 02017, David Rumsey, a map collector and Long Now’s Treasurer of the Board of Directors, acquired the map from antique map seller Barry Ruderman for the Rumsey Map Center at Stanford University. Now, the Rumsey Map Center is bringing Monte’s vision to life. Rumsey’s team has digitized and assembled the sixty sheets into a single world map that stands a remarkable nine feet in diameter.

The map is extraordinary for reasons beyond its size. It largely eschewed the Ptolemaic modes of representation that had held sway in mapmaking since the time of the Greeks in favor of contemporary cartographic sources. And, in an unusual choice, Monte used polar azimuthal projection, portraying the spherical Earth with the North Pole at its center — a perspective seldom used in mapmaking until the advent of air travel in the 20th century, most notably on the emblem of the United Nations.

The United Nations emblem, top, and the Urbano Monte planisphere, bottom.

In a recent essay, historian Katherine Parker writes that Monte’s choice of azimuthal projection is a reflection of the experimental and exciting time of sixteenth century Renaissance cartography:

With the advent of circumnavigations, the trade to the East Indies, and the encounter with the Americas, the known world of Renaissance scholars literally expanded, necessitating new ways to depict the round globe on a two-dimensional plane.

Compared to the better-known and more widely-used Mercator projection, Monte’s azimuthal projection has the advantage of accurately displaying the relative size of continents in the Northern Hemisphere, whereas Mercator’s exaggerates the size of land masses like North America, making it seem larger than Africa when it is in fact three times smaller (As has been noted elsewhere, this artifact of the Mercator projection has had significant social and political implications). Like the Mercator projection, polar azimuthal projection results in distortion around the South pole and Antarctica. But as Greg Miller writes, this was in line with the cartographic thinking of the time. “Most cartographers thought [Antarctica] had to be massive to counterbalance the large landmasses to the North,” Rumsey says.

Each region contains notes and images that nod to the location’s myths and histories. Japan in particular contains numerous place names not seen on other maps of the time — an indication both of Monte’s interest in the region and the likelihood that he was given access to Jesuit knowledge of the terrain after the visit by the Japanese embassy.

Like many mapmakers of his era, Monte chose to fill in the blank spaces of his map, which teems with with mermen, unicorns, griffins and large birds. Chet Van Duzer, a renowned History of Cartography scholar, has written extensively on this tendency in mapmaking, which he argues is motivated by horror vacui — a fear of empty spaces.

Tavola XXXXII (Antarctica, Map Dedication, Urbano Monte Portrait)

“Sea monsters certainly expressed a fear of the unknown depths of the ocean,” Van Duzer says, “and also, in some cases, of the unknown dangers of distant regions. The Indian Ocean, the most distant ocean from Europe, tends to have a higher number of sea monsters than other oceans on medieval European maps.”

Van Duzer theorizes that the monsters that persisted among so many sixteenth century maps could be an attempt by mapmakers to hide their ignorance, or to increase the market value for their works (Wealthy patrons preferred lavish decorations). As maps transitioned from ways of illustrating cosmic principles (as in the medieval mappa mundi) to being reliable instruments of navigation, the sea monsters disappeared.

It is an unusual and remarkable map, far ahead of its time. Now, thanks to advances in technology, and 430 years after it was first envisioned, viewers can finally see the world as Urbano Monte intended. The map is viewable online and to visitors to the Rumsey Map Center.

Learn More:

Stewart Brand Gives In-Depth and Personal Interview to Tim Ferriss

Posted on January 16th, 02018 by Ahmed Kabil
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Tim Ferriss, who wrote the The Four Hour Work Week and gave a Long Now talk on accelerated learning in 02011, recently interviewed Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand on his podcast, “The Tim Ferriss Show”. The interview is wide-ranging, in-depth, and among the most personal Brand has given to date. Over the course of nearly three hours, Brand touches on everything from the Whole Earth Catalog, why he gave up skydiving, how he deals with depression, his early experiences with psychedelics, the influence of Marshall McLuhan and Buckminster Fuller on his thinking, his recent CrossFit regimen, and the ongoing debate between artificial intelligence and intelligence augmentation. He also discusses the ideas and projects of The Long Now Foundation.

Brand frames The Long Now Foundation as a way to augment social intelligence:

The idea of the Long Now Foundation is to give encouragement and permission to society that is rewarded for thinking very, very rapidly, in business terms and, indeed, in scientific terms, of rapid turnaround, and getting inside the adversaries’ loop, move fast and break things, [to think long term]. Long term thinking might be proposing that some things you don’t want to break. They might involve moving slow, and steadily.

The Pace Layer diagram.

He introduces the pace layer diagram as a tool to approach global scale challenges:

What we’re proposing is there are a lot of problems, a lot of issues and a lot of quite wonderful things in that category of being big and slow moving and so I wound up with Brian Eno developing a pace layer diagram of civilization where there’s the fast moving parts like fashion and commerce, and then it goes slower when you get to infrastructure and then things move really slow in how governance changes, and then you go down to culture and language and religion move really slowly and then nature, the tectonic forces in climate change and so on move really big and slow. And what’s interesting about that is that the fast parts get all the attention, but the slow parts have all the power. And if you want to really deal with the powerful forces in the world, bear relation to seeing what can be done with appreciating and maybe helping adjust the big slow things.

Stewart Brand and ecosystem ecologist Elena Bennett during the Q&A of her November 02017 SALT Talk. Photo: Gary Wilson.

Ferris admits that in the last few months he’s been pulled out of the current of long-term thinking by the “rip tide of noise,” and asks Brand for a “homework list” of SALT talks that can help provide him with perspective. Brand recommends Jared Diamond’s 02005 talk on How Societies Fail (And Sometimes Succeed), Matt Ridley’s 02011 talk on Deep Optimism, and Ian Morris’ 02011 talk on Why The West Rules (For Now).

Brand also discusses Revive & Restore’s efforts to bring back the Wooly Mammoth, and addresses the fear many have of meddling with complex systems through de-extinction.

Long-term thinking has figured prominently in Tim Ferriss’ podcast in recent months. In addition to his interview with Brand, Ferris has also interviewed Long Now board member Kevin Kelly and Long Now speaker Tim O’Reilly.

Listen to the podcast in full here.

Music, Time and Long-Term Thinking: Brian Eno Expands the Vocabulary of Human Feeling

Posted on November 30th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
link   Categories: Long Term Art, The Big Here   chat 1 Comment

Brian Eno’s creative activities defy categorization. Widely known as a musician and producer, Eno has expanded the frontiers of audio and visual art for decades, and posited new ways of approaching creativity in general. He is a thinker and speaker, activist and eccentric. He formulated the idea of the Big Here and Long Now—a central conceptual underpinning of The Long Now Foundation, which he helped found with Stewart Brand and Danny Hillis in 01996. Eno’s artistic career has often dealt closely with concepts of time, scale, and, as he puts it in the liner notes to Apollo“expanding the vocabulary of human feeling.”

Ambient and Generative Art

Brian Eno coined the term ‘ambient music’ to describe a kind of music meant to influence an ambience without necessarily demanding the listener’s full attention. The notes accompanying his 01978 album Ambient 1: Music for Airports differentiate it from the commercial music produced specifically for background listening by companies such as Muzak, Inc. in the mid-01900s. Eno explains that ambient music should enhance — not blanket — an environment’s acoustic and atmospheric characteristics, to calming and thought-inducing effect. It has to accommodate various levels of listening engagement, and therefore “must be as ignorable as it is interesting” (Eno 296).

Ambient music can have a timeless quality to it. The absence of a traditional structure of musical development withholds a clear beginning or end or middle, tapping into a sense of deeper, slower processes. It lets you “settle into time a little bit,” as Eno said in the first of Long Now’s SALT talks. As TimeMagazine writes, “the theme of time, foreshortened or elongated, is a defining feature of Eno’s musical and visual adventures. But it takes a long lens, pointing back, to bring into focus the ways in which his influence has seeped into the mainstream.”

Eno’s use of the term ‘ambient’ was, however, a product of a long process of musical development. He had been thinking specifically about this kind of music for several years already, and the influence of minimalist artists such as Terry RileySteve Reich and Philip Glass had long shaped his musical ideas and techniques. He also drew on many other genres, including Krautrockbands such as Tangerine Dream and Can, whose music was contemporaneous and influential in Eno’s early collaborations with Robert Fripp, e.g. (No Pussyfooting). While their music might not necessarily fall into the genre ‘ambient,’ David Sheppard notes that “Eno and Fripp’s lengthy essays shared with Krautrock a disavowal of verse/chorus orthodoxy and instead relied on an essentially static musical core with only gradual internal harmonic developments” (142). In his autobiography, Eno also points to developments in audio technology as key in the development of the genre, as well as one particularly insightful experience he had while bedridden after an accident:

New sound-shaping and space-making devices appeared on the market weekly (and still do), synthesizers made their clumsy but crucial debut, and people like me just sat at home night after night fiddling around with all this stuff, amazed at what was now possible, immersed in the new sonic worlds we could create.

And immersion was really the point: we were making music to swim in, to float in, to get lost inside.

This became clear to me when I was confined to bed, immobilized by an accident in early 01975. My friend Judy Nylon had visited, and brought with her a record of 17th-century harp music. I asked her to put it on as she left, which she did, but it wasn’t until she’d gone that I realized that the hi-fi was much too quiet and one of the speakers had given up anyway. It was raining hard outside, and I could hardly hear the music above the rain — just the loudest notes, like little crystals, sonic icebergs rising out of the storm. I couldn’t get up and change it, so I just lay there waiting for my next visitor to come and sort it out, and gradually I was seduced by this listening experience. I realized that this was what I wanted music to be — a place, a feeling, an all-around tint to my sonic environment.

It was not long after this realization that Eno released the album Discreet Music, which he considers to be an ambient work, mentioning a conceptual likeness to Erik Satie’s Furniture Music. One of the premises behind its creation was that it would be background for Robert Fripp to play over in concerts, and the title track is about half an hour long — as much time as was available to Eno on one side of a record.

It is also an early example in his discography of what later became another genre closely associated with Eno and with ambient: generative music. In the liner notes — which include the story of the broken speaker epiphany — he writes:

Since I have always preferred making plans to executing them, I have gravitated towards situations and systems that, once set into operation, could create music with little or no intervention on my part.

That is to say, I tend towards the roles of planner and programmer, and then become an audience to the results.

This notion of creating a system that generates an output is an idea that artists had considered previously. In fact, in the 18th century even Mozart and others experimented with a ‘musical dice game’ in which the numerical results of rolling dice ‘generated’ a song. More relevant to Brian Eno’s use of generative systems, however, was the influence of 20th century composers such as John Cage. David Sheppard’s biography of Brian Eno describes how Tom Phillips — a teacher at Ipswich School of Art where Eno studied painting in the mid 01960s — introduced him to the musical avant garde scene with the works of Cage, Cornelius Cardew, and the previously mentioned minimalists Reich, Glass and Riley (Sheppard 35–41). These and other artists exposed Eno to ideas such as aleatory and minimalist music, tape experimentation, and performance or process-based musical concepts.

Eno notes Steve Reich’s influence on his generative music, acknowledging that “indeed a lot of my interest was directly inspired by Steve Reich’s sixties tape pieces such as Come Out) and It’s Gonna Rain” (Eno 332). And looking back on a 01970 performance by the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Royal College of Art, Brian Eno highlights its impact on him:

This was one of the most extraordinary musical experiences of my life — sound made completely physical and as dense as concrete by sheer volume and repetition. For me it was like a viscous bath of pure, thick energy. Though he was at that time described as a minimalist, this was actually one of the most detailed musics I’d ever heard. It was all intricacy and exotic harmonics. (Sheppard 63–64)

The relationship between minimalism and intricacy, in a sense, is what underlies the concept of generative music. The artist designs a system with inputs which, when compared to the plethora of outputs, appear quite simple. Steve Reich’s It’s Gonna Rain is, in fact, simply a single 1.8 second recording of a preacher shouting “It’s gonna rain!” played simultaneously on two tape recorders. Due to the inconsistencies in the two devices’ hardware, however, the recordings play at slightly different speeds, producing over 17 minutes of phasing in which the relationship between the two recordings constantly changes.

Brian Eno has taken this capacity for generative music to create complexity out of simplicity much further. Discreet Music (01975) used a similar approach, but started with recordings of different lengths, used an echo system, and altered timbre over time. The sonic possibilities opened by adding just a few more variables are vast.

This experimental approach to creativity is just one of many that Eno explored, including some non-musical means of prompting unexpected outputs. The same year that Discreet Music was released, he collaborated with painter Peter Schmidt to produce Oblique Strategies: Over One Hundred Worthwhile Dilemmas.

The work is a set of cards, each one with an aphorism designed to help people think differently or to approach a problem from a different angle. These include phrases such as “Honour thy error as a hidden intention,” “Work at a different speed,” and “Use an old idea.” Schmidt had created something a few years earlier along the same lines that he called ‘Thoughts Behind the Thoughts.’ There was also inspiration to be drawn from John Cage’s use of the I Ching to direct his musical compositions and George Brecht’s 01963 Water Yam Box. Like a generative system, the Oblique Strategies provides a guiding rule or principle that is specific enough to focus creativity but general enough to yield an unknown outcome, dependent on a multitude of variables interacting within the framework of the strategy.

Three decades later, generative systems remained a central inspiration for Eno and a source of interesting cross-disciplinary collaboration. In 02006, he discussed them with Will Wright, creator of popular video game series The Sims, at a Long Now SALT talk:

Wright observed that science is all about compressing reality to minimal rule sets, but generative creation goes the opposite direction. You look for a combination of the fewest rules that can generate a whole complex world that will always surprise you, yet within a framework that stays recognizable. “It’s not engineering and design,” he said, “so much as it is gardening. You plant seeds. Richard Dawkins says that a willow seed has only about 800K of data in it.” — Stewart Brand

Eno at the San Francisco opening of 77 Million Paintings in 02007. Photo by Scott Beale.

Brian Eno has always been interested in this explosion of possibilities, and has in recent years created generative art that incorporates both audio and visuals. He notes that his work 77 Million Paintings would take about 10,000 years to run through all of its possibilities — at its slowest setting. Long Now produced the North American premiere of 77 Million Paintings at Yerba Buena center for the Arts in 02007, and members were treated to a surprise visit from Mr. Eno who spoke about his work and Long Now.

Eno also designed an art installation for The Interval, Long Now’s cafe-bar-museum venue in San Francisco. “Ambient Painting #1” is the only example of Brian’s generative light work in America, and the only ambient painting of his that is currently on permanent public display anywhere.

Ambient Painting #1, by Brian Eno. Photo by Gary Wilson.

Another generative work called Bloom, created with Peter Chilvers, is available as an app.

Part instrument, part composition and part artwork, Bloom’s innovative controls allow anyone to create elaborate patterns and unique melodies by simply tapping the screen. A generative music player takes over when Bloom is left idle, creating an infinite selection of compositions and their accompanying visualisations. —

Eno’s interest in time and scale (among other things) was shared by Long Now co-founder Stewart Brand, and they were in close correspondence in the years leading up to the creation of The Long Now Foundation. Eno’s 01995 diary, published in part in his autobiography, describes that correspondence in its introduction:

My conversation with Stewart Brand is primarily a written one — in the form of e-mail that I routinely save, and which in 1995 alone came to about 100,000 words. Often I discuss things with him in much greater detail than I would write about them for my own benefit in the diary, and occasionally I’ve excerpted from that correspondence. — Eno, ix

Out of Eno’s involvement with the establishment of The Long Now Foundation emerged in his essay “The Big Here and Long Now”, which describes his experiences with small-scale perspectives and the need for larger ones, as well as the artist’s role in social change.

This imaginative process can be seeded and nurtured by artists and designers, for, since the beginning of the 20th century, artists have been moving away from an idea of art as something finished, perfect, definitive and unchanging towards a view of artworks as processes or the seeds for processes — things that exist and change in time, things that are never finished. Sometimes this is quite explicit — as in Walter de Maria’s “Lightning Field,” a huge grid of metal poles designed to attract lightning. Many musical compositions don’t have one form, but change unrepeatingly over time — many of my own pieces and Jem Finer’s Artangel installation “LongPlayer” are like this. Artworks in general are increasingly regarded as seeds — seeds for processes that need a viewer’s (or a whole culture’s) active mind in which to develop. Increasingly working with time, culture-makers see themselves as people who start things, not finish them.

And what is possible in art becomes thinkable in life. We become our new selves first in simulacrum, through style and fashion and art, our deliberate immersions in virtual worlds. Through them we sense what it would be like to be another kind of person with other kinds of values. We rehearse new feelings and sensitivities. We imagine other ways of thinking about our world and its future.

[…] In this, the 21st century, we may need icons more than ever before. Our conversation about time and the future must necessarily be global, so it needs to be inspired and consolidated by images that can transcend language and geography. As artists and culture-makers begin making time, change and continuity their subject-matter, they will legitimise and make emotionally attractive a new and important conversation.

The Chime Generator and January 07003

Brian Eno’s involvement with Long Now began through his discussions with Stewart Brand about time and long-term thinking, and the need for a carefully crafted sonic experience to help The Clock evoke deep time for its visitors posed a challenge Eno was uniquely suited to take on.

From its earliest conception, the imagined visit to the 10,000-Year Clock has had aural experience at its core. One of Danny Hillis’ earliest refrains about The Clock evokes this:

It ticks once a year, bongs once a century, and the cuckoo comes out every millennium. —Danny Hillis

In the years of brainstorming and design that have molded this vision into a tangible object, a much more detailed and complicated picture has come into focus, but sound has remained central; one of the largest components of the 10,000-Year Clock will be its Chime Generator.

Rather than a bong per century, visitors to the Clock will have the opportunity to hear it chime 10 bells in a unique sequence each day at noon. The story of how this came to be is told by Mr. Eno himself in the liner notes of January 07003: Bell Studies for The Clock of the Long Now, a collection of musical experiments he synthesized and recorded in 02003:

When we started thinking about The Clock of the Long Now, we naturally wondered what kind of sound it could make to announce the passage of time. Bells have stood the test of time in their relationship to clocks, and the technology of making them is highly evolved and still evolving. I began reading about bells, discovering the physics of their sounds, and became interested in thinking about what other sorts of bells might exist. My speculations quickly took me out of the bounds of current physical and material possibilities, but I considered some license allowable since the project was conceived in a time scale of thousands of years, and I might therefore imagine bells with quite different physical properties from those we now know (Eno 3).

Bells have a long history of marking time, so their inclusion in The Clock is a natural fit. Throughout this long history, they’ve also commonly been used in churches, meditation halls and yoga studios to offer a resonant ambiance in which to contemplate a connection to something bigger, much as The Clock’s vibrations will help inspire an awareness of one’s place in deep time. Furthermore, bells were central to some early forms of generative music. While learning about their history, Eno found a vast literature on the ways bells had been used in Britain to explore the combinatorial possibilities afforded by following a few simple rules:

Stated briefly, change-ringing is the art (or, to many practitioners, the science) of ringing a given number of bells such that all possible sequences are used without any being repeated. The mathematics of this idea are fairly simple: n bells will yield n! sequences or changes. The ! is not an expression of surprise but the sign for a factorial: a direction to multiply the number by all those lower than it. So 3 bells will yield 3 x 2 x 1 = 6 changes, while 4 bells will yield 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 = 24 changes. The ! process does become rather surprising as you continue it for higher values of n: 5! = 120, and 6! = 720 — and you watch the number of changes increasing dramatically with the number of bells. — Eno 4

Eno noticed that 10 bells in this context will provide 3,628,800 sequences. Ring one of those each day and you’ll be occupied for almost exactly 10,000 years, the proposed lifespan of The Clock.

Following this line of thinking, he imagined using the patterns played by the bells as a method of encoding the amount of time that had elapsed since The Clock had started ringing them. Writing in 02003, he says:

I wanted to hear the bells of the month of January, 07003 — approximately halfway through the life of the Clock.

I had no idea how to generate this series, but I had a good idea who would.

I wrote to Danny Hillis asking whether he could come up with an algorithm for the job. Yes, he wrote back, and in fact he could come up with an algorithm for generating all the possible algorithms for that job. Not having the storage space for a lot of extra algorithms in my studio, I decided to settle for just the one. — Eno 6

And so, the pattern The Clock’s bells will ring was set. Using a start point (02003 in this case), one can extrapolate the order in which the Bells will ring for a given day in the future. The title track of the album features the synthesized bells played in each of the 31 sequences for the month of January in the year 07003. Other tracks on the album use different algorithms or different bells to explore alternative possibilities; taken together, the album is distinctly “ambient” in Eno’s tradition, but also unique within his work for its minimalism and procedurality.

The procedures guiding the composition are strict enough that they can be written in computer code. A Long Now Member named Sean Burke was kind enough to create a webpage that illustrates how this works. The site allows visitors to enter a future date and receive a MIDI file of the chimes from that day. You can also download the algorithm itself in the form of a Perl script or just grab the MIDI data for all 10,000 years and synthesize your own bells.

If the bell ringing algorithm is a seed, in what soil can it be planted and expected to live its full life? Compact disks, Perl scripts and MIDI files have their uses, of course, but The Clock has to really last in a physical, functional sense for many thousands of years. To serve this purpose, the Chime Generator manifests the algorithm in stainless steel Geneva wheels rotating on bearings of silicon nitride.

Eno’s Chime Generator prototype. Photo by Because We Can

One of the first prototypes for this mechanism resides at The Interval. In its operation, one can see that the Geneva wheels rotate at different intervals because of their varying numbers of slots. Together, the Geneva wheels represent the ringing algorithm and sequentially engage the hammers in all 3.6 million permutations. For this prototype, the hammers strike Tibetan Bowl Gongs to sound the notes, but any type of bell can be used.

The full scale Chime Generator will be vertically suspended in the Clock shaft within the mountain. The Geneva wheels will be about 8 feet in diameter, with the full mechanism standing over seventy feet in height.

The bells for the full scale Chime Generator won’t be Tibetan Bowl Gongs like in the smaller prototype above. Though testing has been done within the Clock chamber to find its resonant frequency, the exact tuning and design of the Clock’s bells will be left until the chamber is finished and most of the Clock is installed in order to maximize their ability to resonate within the space.

Like much of Brian Eno’s work, the chimes in the 10,000-Year Clock draw together far-flung traditions, high and low tech, and science and art to create a meditative experience, unique in a given moment, but expansive in scale and scope. They encourage the listener to live and to be present in the moment, the “now,” but to feel that moment expanding forward and backward through time, literally to experience the “Long Now.”

This is the first of a series of articles, “Music, Time and Long-Term Thinking,” in which we will discuss music and musicians who have engaged various aspects of long-term thinking, both historically and in the contemporary scene.

A Message from Long Now Members on #GivingTuesday

Posted on November 28th, 02017 by Mikl Em
link   Categories: Announcements, Fund of the Long Now, Long Term Thinking   chat 2 Comments

We hope you’ll consider a tax-deductible donation to Long Now this giving season.

Thank you to Long Now members and donors: we appreciate your additional support this giving season. With your help we can foster long-term thinking for generations to come.

Danny Hillis publishes new essay on Long-Term Timekeeping in the Clock of the Long Now

Posted on November 7th, 02017 by Ahmed Kabil
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Danny Hillis, Long Now co-founder and designer of the 10,000 Year Clock, has a new essay, “Long-Term Timekeeping in the Clock of the Long Now” in the book The Science of Time 2016: Time in Astronomy & Society, Past, Present and Future (published November 02017). The Science of Time 2016 presents “information on the science and history of time and its impact on sciences, cultures, religions, and future developments in the field:”

The uses of time in astronomy – from pointing telescopes, coordinating and processing observations, predicting ephemerides, cultures, religious practices, history, businesses, determining Earth orientation, analyzing time-series data and in many other ways – represent a broad sample of how time is used throughout human society and in space. Time and its reciprocal, frequency, is the most accurately measurable quantity and often an important path to the frontiers of science. But the future of timekeeping is changing with the development of optical frequency standards and the resulting challenges of distributing time at ever higher precision, with the possibility of timescales based on pulsars, and with the inclusion of higher-order relativistic effects. The definition of the second will likely be changed before the end of this decade, and its realization will increase in accuracy; the definition of the day is no longer obvious. The variability of the Earth’s rotation presents challenges of understanding and prediction.

In this symposium speakers took a closer look at time in astronomy, other sciences, cultures, and business as a defining element of modern civilization. The symposium aimed to set the stage for future timekeeping standards, infrastructure, and engineering best practices for astronomers and the broader society. At the same time the program was cognizant of the rich history from Harrison’s chronometer to today’s atomic clocks and pulsar observations. The theoreticians and engineers of time were brought together with the educators and historians of science, enriching the understanding of time among both experts and the public.

The book can be purchased here. (Hillis’ individual chapter in the book is also available for purchase.)

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