Danny Hillis10 September 2004 21:00 Danny Hillis - Progress on the 10,000-year Clock
When we think of cultural artifacts, we often think of objects – a painting, a book, or a Clock. But perhaps not all artifacts take tangible form: can the ideas that inspired such objects be considered cultural artifacts, too? And if so, how can we save these for future generations?
Hans Ulrich Obrist answers that first question with a resounding ‘yes’ – and offers an answer to that second one, as well. The swiss-born curator and art historian has been working on a project of cultural preservation – but rather than collect objects, he is capturing ideas as they materialize in conversation. Part art project, part oral history, and part exercise in the workings of memory, the Interview Project is an effort “to preserve the voices of the world’s artists and innovative thinkers of the last 50 years in a digital archive.”
Through a series of “sustained conversations” with influential figures from the worlds of art, science, and culture, Obrist seeks to do more than just document the important ideas that drive today’s culture: he hopes to capture their dynamic and transformative nature. Focusing on how ideas are born and recreated through dialogue, the Interview Project explores the role of time, evolution, and global connections in shaping human culture and innovation.
As part of this project, Obrist recently interviewed Danny Hillis, co-chair of the Long Now Foundation’s board of directors. In a public event organized in conjunction with the Institute for the 21st Century, a Los Angeles-based initiative that works to archive Obrist’s interviews, he and Hillis spoke about the ideas that inspired Long Now’s 10,000-year clock, and the cultural evolution it hopes to encourage.
Discussing the convergence of science, technology, and art, their conversation (which you can listen to here) illustrates that no cultural artifact emerges in a vacuum. New ideas are born from those that came before, and go on to inspire others in return. Culture is carried by, and created through, the dynamic exchange of conversation. “Knowing something is so 20th century,” says Hillis in the interview, speaking about the pre-internet age, in which a person’s knowledge was the sum of what his memory could hold. Today more than ever, in a world where billions of bits of digital information can be accessed at the tap of a finger, human knowledge and culture reside in our global network of exchange. And just as Hillis’ Connection Machine proved that linking processors together can transform the capability of computers, so can the connection of ideas produce unprecedented opportunities for new cultural creation. The Clock of the Long Now grew from the convergence of ideas that inspired its creators, and will hopefully contribute to the development of many new ideas and directions in the future.
Brian Eno, Stewart Brand and Alexander Rose discuss the origins and goals of the Long Now Foundation. This was recorded in collaboration with Gresham College, in London, U.K., on February 1, 2010.
Long Finance is an initiative begun in 2007 to establish a World Centre Of Thinking On Long-Term Finance. The initiative began with a question — "When would we know our financial system is working?" — which challenges a system that can’t provide today’s 20-year-olds with a reliable financial retirement structure. The aim of the Long Finance Institute is "to improve society’s understanding and use of finance over the long-term."
The research project proposals range from theory versus practice or fiscal versus monetary to sustainability versus robustness. The iconic project for Long Finance is the Eternal Coin, with the objective of starting a global debate about society’s values over the long-term.
This is the second event that Gresham College has co-hosted, where learning from the sister Long Now organization and its 10,000 Year Clock Project.
Stewart Brand is a co-founder and managing director of Global Business Network, founded and runs the GBN Book Club, and is the president of The Long Now Foundation. Brand has been a member of the Board of Trustees of the Santa Fe Institute, an interdisciplinary center studying the sciences of complexity, since 01989. He was a founding member of the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization which supports civil rights and responsibilities in electronic media, and is an acting adviser to Ecotrust, Portland-based preservers of temperate rain forest from Alaska to San Francisco.
Brian Eno is a musician, composer and producer of audio and visual landscapes. Eno’s synthesizer work and electronic manipulation of audio textures was first featured during the early 1970’s as a founding member of Roxy Music. His solo and collaborative musical compositions with John Cale, Robert Fripp and David Bowie have been in circulation world-wide over the last 25 years.
Alexander Rose is the director of the Long Now Foundation, where he has facilitated projects such as the 10,000 Year Clock with Danny Hillis, the Rosetta Project, Long Bets, Seminars About Long Term Thinking, Long Server and others. Rose shares several design patents on the 10,000 Year Clock with Danny Hillis, the first prototype of which is in the Science Museum of London.
In a desert in Texas a 200-feet-tall clock is being constructed deep inside a mountain. Once completed, it will keep time for the next 10,000 years, even if there are no humans around to use it. Tune in as Chuck and Josh get to the bottom of the Long Now.