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Amazon dot Com: Time Will Tell

High on a rocky ridge in the desert, nestled among the brush, is the topmost part of a clock that has been ticking for thousands of years.

It looks out over the ruins of a spaceport, built by a rich man whose name was forgotten long ago.

Most of the clock is deep inside the mountain, below the ridgeline. To get there, you hike for days through the heat; the only sounds are the buzzing of flies and the whisper of the occasional breeze. You climb up through the brush, then pass through a hidden door into the darkness and silence of the clock chamber. Far above your head, in the darkness, a massive pendulum swings slowly back and forth, making the clock tick once every 10 seconds.

Amazon founder
‘In the year 4000, you’ll go see this clock and you’ll wonder, “Why on Earth did they build this?”‘ — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos

No one knows who built it, or why. They built it well, and even now it keeps perfect time. All we know of these strange people is that they were obsessed with the future.

Why else would they build something that had no purpose except to mark time for thousands of years?

The rich man is founder Jeff Bezos, and he has indeed started construction on a clock that he hopes will run for 10,000 years.

For Bezos, the founder of, the clock is not just the ultimate prestige timepiece. It’s a symbol of the power of long-term thinking. His hope is that building it will change the way humanity thinks about time, encouraging our distant descendants to take a longer view than we have.

For starters, Bezos himself is taking a far, far longer view than most Fortune 500 CEOs.

“Over the lifetime of this clock, the United States won’t exist,” Bezos tells me. “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.”

So is Jeff Bezos personally building a clock in the desert?

Well, while he’s funding it, and it’s on his land, the clock itself is actually the project of the Long Now foundation.

The Long Now Foundation itself is the brainchild of inventor and engineer Danny Hillis, who launched the non-profit to build the clock. The Long Now foundation has over 3,300 members who are supporting the project, but Bezos is by far the most prominent and seemingly deep-pocketed, kicking in a projected $42 million, according to a Wired profile of the Clock.

The foundation also employs an engineering team of around a dozen and also has multiple partners and sponsors who are helping to make the parts for the clock. Bezos is just picking up a lot of the check.

Is it atomic?

No. The clock, like many other more short-sighted clocks, is powered mechanically by a large weight hanging on a gear. Visitors can wind the clock, or it can also be wound by a solar winder.

The potential energy of the falling weight alone can power the clock for years in the absence of humans or sunlight, too, in the potential scenario where we nuke each other.

Also, the designers focused on how to power the clock for quite a while and deduced that atomic power was a uniquely poor idea.

How do they seriously expect this thing to last for 10,000 years?

Brian Eno, a backer of the Long Now Foundation. (Long Now Facebook)

They’ve put a substantial amount of thought into this aspect.

The clock is made out of durable but not particularly valuable materials, in order to ensure both longevity and immunity from looters. It’s going to be built 500 feet down into a Texan mountain, to shelter it from any sort of surface cataclysm or weather erosion. The clock won’t tick, because that will make the parts degrade. They’re planning on earthquakes, too.

It’s going to be powered by human winding with a solar fail safe. They’re using a use solar alignment to adjust a very slowly moving mechanical oscillator in order to keep the clock accurate.

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