The Long Now

Last week, a note was made of decaying electronics and things in general.  Nothing seems to last, especially high tech devices.  About the longest pieces of high tech hardware have been running continuously that come to mind are the space probes Voyager 1 and 2 (since the mid seventies).  There might be an old tube radio that still runs (perhaps a century old), or even that strange battery (running since 1840), but nothing so high tech as those probes comes to mind.  There has been some discussion of this in a few places; one interesting discussion is here.

How to design things for a long time is something the ancients did pretty well; the pyramids still stand, and a few aqueducts from Roman times (built with concrete that wasn’t reinforced with iron or steel bars) are operational.  Right now, the Long Now Foundation is building the Clock of the Long Now, designed to run for 10,000 years. It it mostly mechanical, with some ingenious ways of keeping time.

The upshot of all of this is that when (almost wrote ‘if’ there…) civilization does fall, a great deal of infrastructure will start to fall apart, and at some point, we probably won’t be able to do things like make fancy new computers, hard drives, light bulbs, or even LEDs.  Much of our digital information may be lost, unless it is kept on things like the HD-Rosetta , a fascinating piece of storage technology that should be getting a bit more press.

What will be left, are things that have been designed to last.


  • What, in our modern world, has been made to last?  Most civil engineering projects have lifetimes of 100 years, at best.
  • The Clock of the Long Now has a nifty binary mechanism it it; could we build a simple calculator that would be workable for the next 10,000 years, using similar principles?
  • Could any “regular” electronics last for that long?
  • What would you preserve on an HD-Rosetta?
  • What information would we want to last 10,000 years?



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