So, could researchers find clear evidence that an ancient species built a relatively short-lived industrial civilization long before our own? Perhaps, for example, some early mammal rose briefly to civilization building during the Paleocene epoch about 60 million years ago. There are fossils, of course. But the fraction of life that gets fossilized is always minuscule and varies a lot depending on time and habitat. It would be easy, therefore, to miss an industrial civilization that only lasted 100,000 years—which would be 500 times longer than our industrial civilization has made it so far.
Sunday, April 15th, 2018
Friday, March 30th, 2018
A run-down of digital preservation technologies for very, very long-term storage …in space.
Friday, March 9th, 2018
I think our destination is neither utopia nor dystopia nor status quo, but protopia. Protopia is a state that is better than today than yesterday, although it might be only a little better. Protopia is much much harder to visualize. Because a protopia contains as many new problems as new benefits, this complex interaction of working and broken is very hard to predict.
Kevin Kelly’s thoughts at the time of coining of this term seven years ago:
No one wants to move to the future today. We are avoiding it. We don’t have much desire for life one hundred years from now. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we don’t take a generational perspective. We’re stuck in the short now. We also adopt the Singularity perspective: that imagining the future in 100 years is technically impossible. So there is no protopia we are reaching for.
Saturday, February 24th, 2018
As installation begins, it feels like a good time to revisit this twelve year old essay by Michael Chabon on The Clock Of The Long Now. It’s a remarkable piece of writing about our relationship to the very idea of The Future, and how that relationship has changed in just one lifetime.
Ten thousand years from now: can you imagine that day? Okay, but do you? Do you believe “the Future” is going to happen? If the Clock works the way that it’s supposed to do—if it lasts—do you believe there will be a human being around to witness, let alone mourn its passing, to appreciate its accomplishment, its faithfulness, its immense antiquity? What about five thousand years from now, or even five hundred? Can you extend the horizon of your expectations for our world, for our complex of civilizations and cultures, beyond the lifetime of your own children, of the next two or three generations? Can you even imagine the survival of the world beyond the present presidential administration?
Friday, February 2nd, 2018
There’s a running joke at just about any gathering at Clearleft where we measure TTPL—Time To Pace Layers—a measurement of how long we can discuss anything before making an inevitable reference to Stewart Brand’s framing.
It’s one of those concepts that, once your brain has been exposed, you start seeing everywhere. Like bad kerning or sexism.
Friday, January 26th, 2018
Off-site backups of humanity’s knowledge and culture, stored in different media (including pyramidal crystals) placed in near-Earth orbit, the moon, and Mars.
We are developing specialized next-generation devices that we call Archs™ (pronounced “Arks”), which are designed to hold and transmit large amounts of data over long periods of time in extreme environments, including outer space and on the surfaces of other planetary bodies.
Our goal is to collect and curate important data sets and to install them on Archs™ that will be delivered to as many locations as possible for safekeeping.
To increase the chances that Archs™ will be found in the future, we aim for durability and massive redundancy across a broad diversity of locations and materials – a strategy that nature itself has successfully employed.
Friday, September 29th, 2017
From the library of Alexandria to the imagined canals of mars to the spots on the sun, this is a beautifully written examination of the chronology contained within the bristlecone pine.
The oldest of the living bristlecones were just saplings when the pyramids were raised. The most ancient, called Methuselah, is estimated to be more than 4,800 years old; with luck, it will soon enter its sixth millennium as a living, reproducing organism. Because we conceive of time in terms of experience, a life spanning millennia can seem alien or even eternal to the human mind. It is hard to grasp what it would be like to see hundreds of generations flow out from under you in the stream of time, hard to imagine how rich and varied the mind might become if seasoned by five thousand years of experience and culture.
There is only the briefest passing mention of the sad story of Don Currey.
Friday, September 1st, 2017
An interesting approach to digital preservation: storing digital video in the DNA of bacteria.
Tuesday, August 22nd, 2017
60 seconds over Idaho
I lived in Germany for the latter half of the nineties. On August 11th, 1999, parts of Germany were in the path of a total eclipse of the sun. Freiburg—the town where I was living—wasn’t in the path, so Jessica and I travelled north with some friends to Karlsruhe.
The weather wasn’t great. There was quite a bit of cloud coverage, but at the moment of totality, the clouds had thinned out enough for us to experience the incredible sight of a black sun.
(The experience was only slightly marred by the nearby idiot who took a picture with the flash on right before totality. Had my eyesight not adjusted in time, he would still be carrying that camera around with him in an anatomically uncomfortable place.)
Eighteen years and eleven days later, Jessica and I climbed up a hill to see our second total eclipse of the sun. The hill is in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Travelling thousands of miles just to witness something that lasts for a minute might seem disproportionate, but if you’ve ever been in the path of totality, you’ll know what an awe-inspiring sight it is (if you’ve only seen a partial eclipse, trust me—there’s no comparison). There’s a primitive part of your brain screaming at you that something is horribly, horribly wrong with the world, while another part of your brain is simply stunned and amazed. Then there’s the logical part of your brain which is trying to grasp the incredible good fortune of this cosmic coincidence—that the sun is 400 times bigger than the moon and also happens to be 400 times the distance away.
This time viewing conditions were ideal. Not a cloud in the sky. It was beautiful. We even got a diamond ring.
I like to think I can be fairly articulate, but at the moment of totality all I could say was “Oh! Wow! Oh! Holy shit! Woah!”
Our two eclipses were separated by eighteen years, but they’re connected. The Saros 145 cycle has been repeating since 1639 and will continue until 3009, although the number of total eclipses only runs from 1927 to 2648.
Eighteen years and twelve days ago, we saw the eclipse in Germany. Yesterday we saw the eclipse in Idaho. In eighteen years and ten days time, we plan to be in Japan or China.
Monday, July 3rd, 2017
Steven Johnson dives deep into the METI project, starting with the Arecibo message and covering Lincos, the Drake equation, and the Fermi paradox.
He also wrote about what he left out of the article and mentions that he’s writing a book on long-term decision making.
In a sense, the METI debate runs parallel to other existential decisions that we will be confronting in the coming decades, as our technological and scientific powers increase. Should we create superintelligent machines that exceed our own intellectual capabilities by such a wide margin that we cease to understand how their intelligence works? Should we ‘‘cure’’ death, as many technologists are proposing? Like METI, these are potentially among the most momentous decisions human beings will ever make, and yet the number of people actively participating in those decisions — or even aware such decisions are being made — is minuscule.
Friday, June 9th, 2017
A conference in my old stomping grounds of Freiburg on archives, preservation, and long-term thinking:
It will present the state of art in long-term archiving as well as the present problems in preservation of information and scientific data in archives and libraries. Perhaps the most interesting aspect is that, since all conceivable systems are finite but can be quite large, a choice on the contents has to be made. This requires thinking of the human condition: Who we are, what we are and what do we find worth to preserve.
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2017
Cancelling the future.
The future lives and dies by the state of the archives. To look hard at this world and honestly, diligently articulate what happened and what it was like in the present is a sort of promise to the future, a new layer to the palimpsest of history that can become someone else’s foundation.
Monday, May 1st, 2017
The Long Now Foundation has been posting some great stuff on their blog lately. The latest is a look at orreries, clocks, and computers throughout history …and into the future.
Tuesday, March 21st, 2017
An even thornier problem than the Clock of the Long Now.
Friday, March 17th, 2017
A website dedicated to one of the most, um, interesting solutions to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage problem:
- Engineer cats that change colour in response to radiation.
- Create the culture/legend/history that if your cat changes colour, you should move some place else.
There are T-shirts!
Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017
It has been exactly six years to the day since I instantiated this prediction:
The original URL for this prediction (www.longbets.org/601) will no longer be available in eleven years.
It is exactly five years to the day until the prediction condition resolves to a Boolean
If it resolves to
true, The Bletchly Park Trust will receive $1000.
If it resolves to
false, The Internet Archive will receive $1000.
Much as I would like Bletchley Park to get the cash, I’m hoping to lose this bet. I don’t want my pessimism about URL longevity to be rewarded.
So, to recap, the bet was placed on
It is currently
And the bet times out on
Thursday, November 24th, 2016
An unfolding series of vignettes written by Danny Hillis back in 2010. It’s all very Borgesian.
Wednesday, November 16th, 2016
If you’re in need of some long-term perspective right now—because, let’s face it, the short-term outlook is looking pretty damn bleak—then why not explore some of Max Roser’s data visualisations? Have a look at some of the global trends in inequality, disease, hunger, and conflict.
Saturday, October 29th, 2016
It’s still many years away from being a viable storage option, but here’s the latest on using DNA to back up our collective data.
Magnetic tape may survive a few decades, and DVDs even longer, but they are by no means immortal. Data stored in DNA, provided it’s kept cold and dry, could last for thousands of years.
Friday, May 13th, 2016
Prompted by the way Craig is handling the shutdown of hi.co, Glenn Fleishman takes a look at other digital preservation efforts and talk to Laura Welcher at the Long Now Foundation.
A time capsule is bottled optimism. It makes material the belief that human beings will survive long enough to retrieve and decode artifacts of the distant past.