The 10,000 Year Clock Design Principals


These are the principles that Danny Hillis used in the initial stages of designing a 10,000 Year Clock. We have found these are generally good principles for designing anything to last a long time.


With occasional maintenance, the clock should reasonably be expected to display the correct time for the next 10,000 years.


The clock should be maintainable with bronze-age technology.


It should be possible to determine operational principles of the clock by close inspection.


It should be possible to improve the clock with time.


It should be possible to build working models of the clock from table-top to monumental size using the same design.

Go slow
Avoid sliding friction (gears)
Avoid ticking
Stay clean
Stay dry
Expect bad weather
Expect earthquakes
Expect non-malicious human interaction
Dont tempt thieves
Maintainability and transparency:
Use familiar materials
Allow inspection
Rehearse motions
Make it easy to build spare parts
Expect restarts
Include the manual
Scalability and Evolvabilty:
Make all parts similar size
Separate functions
Provide simple interfaces
The 10,000 Year Clock Design Principals 1


Clepsydra (water clock)Atomic Clock
Powerpotential energy supplied by humanelectricity
Timeflow rate of wateroscillation of cesium atom
Convertlever with e.o.t. adjustmentelectronic frequency divider
Displaypointer, gongnumeric display, radio

Options considered for powering the Clock:

AtomicPoor maintainability&transparency
ChemicalPoor scalability
Solar ElectricPoor maintainability
Pre-stored potential energyPoor scalability
Water flowExposure to water
WindExposure to weather
GeothermalPoor scalability
Tidal gravitational changesPoor scalability
Temperature change
Pressure changeNeed for bellows or seal
Seismic and plate tectonicPoor scalability
Human windingFosters responsibility

Conclusion: My current favorite is human winding because it fits with goals of clock. Temperature change is also a viable alternative.

Options considered as sources of timing for clock:

spring and massinaccurate
water flowinaccurate and wet
solid material flowinaccurate
daily temperature cycleunreliable
seasonal temperature cycleimprecise
tidal forcesdifficult to measure
earths rotating inertial framedifficult to measure accurately
stellar alignmentunreliable (clouds)
solar alignmentunreliable (clouds)
atomic oscillatortoo high tech, difficult to maintain
piezoelectric oscillatortoo high tech, difficult to maintain
atomic decaydifficult to measure precisely
wear and corrosionvery inaccurate
marble rollvery inaccurate
tectonic motiondifficult to predict and measure
orbital dynamicsdifficult to scale
audio oscillatorinaccurate and difficult to measure
pressure chamber cycleinaccurate
inertial governorinaccurate
human ritualtoo much dependence on humans

Conclusion: Since no single source does the job, use an unreliable timer to adjust an inaccurate timer, creating a phase locked loop. My current favorite combination is to use solar alignment to adjust a slow mechanical oscillator.

Options considered for the part of the Clock that
converts time source to display units:

ElectronicsPoor maintainability&transparency
GearsNeed for rational approximation
Pre computed displayLots of calendar pages
LeversRequire very slow timing source
HydraulicsHigh power
Mechanical Digital Logic

Conclusion: Mechanical digital logic.

Options for how to display time:

chimesPoor maintainability&transparency
flutes or whistlescannot sound too often
sweeping handfragile, confusing for many hands
concentric rotating rings
balls in holescreates collectibles
shadows, beams of light
animationhigh power

Conclusion: This is the one I have thought about the least. Note that there can be multiple displays, and that some display can have independent power sources.

Some options for what to display:

DisplayDays per cycle
Time of Day1
Phase of moon29.5305882
Lunar eclipses-6793.504897308
Positions of
visible planets
mercury 87.969
venus 224.701
earth 365.256
mars 686.980
jupiter 4331.772
saturn 10759.22
Procession of zodiac9417404.8533435
Christian Calendarapproximates solar years
Moslem Calendarapproximates lunar years
Jewish calendar
Chinese calendar
Mayan calendar360
day count1
moon count29.5305882
year count (centuries, millennia)365.242
historical events (past and future)

Other information to display: (library functions)

future time scales
astronomical ephemeris
maintenance manual
visits to the clock
weather records
earthquake records
calendar systems
general useful knowledge

The design principles for the clock were primarily the work of Daniel Hillis with additional thoughts brought about by discussion with the other founding board members.

This post was originally posted here

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