The Long Now Foundation, established in 1996, is a public, non-profit organization based in San Francisco that seeks to become the seed of a very long-term cultural institution. It aims to provide a counterpoint to what it views as today's "faster/cheaper" mindset and to promote "slower/better" thinking. The Long Now Foundation hopes to "creatively foster responsibility" in the framework of the next 10,000 years, and so uses 5-digit dates to address the Year 10,000 problem (e.g., by writing "02017" rather than "2017"). The organisation's logo, a capital X with an overline, is a representation of 10,000 in Roman numerals.
The Foundation has several ongoing projects, including a 10,000-year clock known as the Clock of the Long Now, the Rosetta Project, the Long Bet Project, the open source Timeline Tool (also known as Longviewer), the Long Server and a monthly seminar series.
The purpose of the Clock of the Long Now is to construct a timepiece that will operate with minimum human intervention for ten millennia. It is to be constructed of durable materials, to be easy to repair, and to be made of largely valueless materials in case knowledge of the clock is lost or it is deemed to be of no value to an individual or possible future civilization; in this way it is hoped that the Clock will not be looted or destroyed. Its power source (or sources) should be renewable but similarly unlootable. A prototype of a potential final clock candidate was activated on December 31, 1999, and is currently on display at the Science Museum at London. The Foundation hopes to construct the finished Clock at Mount Washington south of Great Basin National Park near Ely, Nevada.
The Rosetta Project is an effort to preserve all languages that have a high likelihood of extinction over the period from 2000 to 2100. These include many languages whose native speakers number in the thousands or fewer. Other languages with many more speakers are considered by the project to be endangered because of the increasing importance of English as an international language of commerce and culture. Samples of such languages are to be inscribed onto a disc of nickel alloy three inches (7.62 cm) across. A Version 1.0 of the disc was completed on November 3, 2008.
The Long Bet Project was created by the Long Now Foundation to propose and keep track of bets on long-term events and stimulate discussion about the future. The Long Now Foundation describes The Long Bet Project as a "public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake." One example bet would be on whether people will regularly fly on pilotless aircraft by 2030.
Bets that were resolved in 2010 included predictions about peak oil, print on demand, modem obsolescence, and commercially available 100-qubit quantum computers.
In November 2003, the Long Now Foundation began a series of monthly Seminars About Long-term Thinking (SALT) with a lecture by Brian Eno. The seminars are held in the San Francisco Bay Area and have focused on long-term policy and thinking, scenario planning, singularity and the projects of the foundation. The seminars are available for download in various formats from the Long Now Foundation. They are intended to "nudge civilization toward making long-term thinking automatic and common". Topics have included preserving environmental resources, the deep past and deep future of the sciences and the arts, human life extension, the likelihood of an asteroid strike in the future, SETI, and the nature of time.
As part of the Seminar series, there are occasionally debates on areas of long term concern, such as synthetic biology or "historian vs futurist on human progress".
The point of Long Now debates is not win-lose. The point is public clarity and deep understanding, leading to action graced with nuance and built-in adaptivity, with long-term responsibility in mind.
In operation, "There are two debaters, Alice and Bob. Alice takes the podium, makes her argument. Then Bob takes her place, but before he can present his counter-argument, he must summarize Alice’s argument to her satisfaction — a demonstration of respect and good faith. Only when Alice agrees that Bob has got it right is he permitted to proceed with his own argument — and then, when he’s finished, Alice must summarize it to his satisfaction."
Mutual understanding is enforced by a reciprocal requirement to describe the other's argument to their satisfaction, with the goal being more understanding after the event than there was beforehand.
Opened in June 2014, The Interval was designed as social space in the foundation's Fort Mason facility in San Francisco. The purpose of The Interval is to have a public space where people can come together to discuss ideas and topics related to long-term thinking, as well as provide a venue for a variety of Long Now events. The Interval includes lounge furniture, artifacts from the foundation's projects, a library, audio/video equipment, and a bar serving tea and coffee during the day, and cocktails during the night. In October 2014 The Interval was named by Thrillist as one of the best new bars in America.
Neal Stephenson's science fiction novel Anathem was partly inspired by the author's involvement with the Clock of the Long Now project. As a result of Brian Eno's work on the clock project, an album entitled January 07003 / Bell Studies for The Clock of The Long Now was released in 2003. English songwriter Owen Tromans released a single entitled "Long Now", and inspired by the foundation, in 2013.
The Board of Directors of the Long Now Foundation is composed of the following members, as of December 2011: