A clock designed to ring once a year, for the next 10,000 years has begun installation in the mountains of west Texas. This is a project of the Long Now Foundation, a group dedicated to promoting long term thinking. Human civilization is roughly 10,000 years old, so lets think about what the next 10,000 years might bring.
Clock of the Long Now – Installation Begins from The Long Now Foundation on Vimeo.
I really love this clock. I love the hope that it represents. We have a lot of challenges to solve to get there, but setting a milestone like this puts a stake in the ground that we’re going to fight to ensure there is someone hear it in 10,000 years.
The Long Now also has an excellent podcast / lecture series which you should add to your rotation.
“Stories,” Gaiman said, “teach us how the world is put together and the rules of living in the world, and they come in an attractive enough package that we take pleasure from them and want to help them propagate.” Northwest coast native Americans have a tale about a beautiful woman and young man whose forbidden love was punished by the earth shaking, and black ash on snow, and finally fire coming from a mountain, killing many people. It stopped only when the beautiful woman was thrown into the burning mountain.
That is important information– solid-seeming mountains can suddenly erupt, and early warnings of that are earthquakes and ash. As pure information it won’t last beyond three generations. But add in beauty and forbidden love and tragic death, and the story will be told as long as people live in the mountains.
Source: Neil Gaiman: How Stories Last – The Long Now
Neil Gaiman did the latest Seminar About Longterm Thinking, audio available to all, video available to Long Now members. 2 years in the making, this is a story about stories, and how we have stories that date back 5000 years.
I think my favorite moment was his explanation that stories are lies. When you say “Once upon a time”, it’s code for “I’m going to lie to you now”. And when you say “this happened to a friend of mine”, it’s code for “I’m going to lie to you now, but I think there is a chance this might be true”. But in those lies we layer elements of truth that endure, even as the stories adapt to the modern age.
As with all Long Now talks, this comes in over an hour and a half of content, but well worth your time.
I recently started listening to podcasts by the Long Now Foundation, which is their monthly recorded lecture series. They’ve all been really good. However, this month’s talk on Massively collaborative synthetic biology by Drew Endy was beyond really good. This is one of the best things I’ve listened to all year.
The talk gives you a primer on the current state of bioengineering, through lens of the iGEM program, which works with high school and college students participating in annual competitions to build reusable bio bricks. This program was born 10 years ago as a winter session class at MIT. Incoming students had the expectation that they would be taught about bioengineering, especially how to create organisms… except, no one had really figured that out yet. So instead the faculty framed this as a “let’s learn together” exercise. And it grew from there.
During one of the iGEM summers they were working on changing the smells of e coli. Part of this exploration involved going to a local cheese shop and picking some of the smelliest cheeses to tinker with the options they had in front of them. In the process the students asked and interesting question though: most of these cheeses are small batch artisanal. As such, these are made by humans by hand. The human biome is massively diverse in bacteria. Could it be that the cheese maker is more than craftsman, but also mother to the cheese? The bacteria of the cheese maker herself being an important part of the final product.
There is also an interesting wander through the ethics of the field. Right now the conversation (via news reporting and entertainment) around genetic modification is starkly black and white. It’s doom or it’s salvation. It’s definitely neither. But until we get out of a black and white world, we can’t actually have the useful and productive conversation about the space.
Drew also lays out this vision of retooling our mater supply chain to be one that’s biology based instead of petroleum based. Making stuff today largely requires fossil fuels. Not just for feed stock, but for the energy of the whole transformation process. But in a bioengineering future we could transform our making of stuff to be the growing of stuff. Going straight from the raw source of energy on this planet (the Sun) into the manufacturing process. To me, this is a really compelling future.
Honestly, these snippets just touch the surface. Do yourself a favor and have a listen to the talk. You won’t regret it.