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a

AI Can’t Fold 1000 Cranes

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Folding 1000 origami cranes sounds at lot easier than it is. When my engineer mind latched onto the idea of completing this task, I was intrigued by the foretold wish one would get in exchange for folding a bunch of the easiest origami models. Kids do this every year in Japan, how hard could it be?

On average, it would take me 5 minutes to fold a crane from start to finish. If you want to do that in a year, 1000 / 365 ~= 2.74. So if you assume you need to fold 3 a day, that is 15 minutes out of your day, every day, for a year where you are folding an origami crane. That is pretty straight forward. There are countless meetings or times when I could be on a call where I could pause, grab a piece of paper and knock one out. But the thing is, that 5 minutes is 5 minutes of pure focus.

In the age of automation, people have not been able to make a reliable origami folding machine, and there is a good reason. The dexterity that you need to be able to make something as “simple” as a crane, is actually quite impressive. Knowing how much delicate force to apply on the right place. Knowing to crease with your finger nail for a hard, definitive fold or your finger tip for a “non-committal” fold. (There is a cool video of someone using the surgical robot arms to fold one, but there is a still a human on the other end). Very quickly, you realize that a folding a crane is not a trivial task. Even if you wanted to rush it to make a “shitty” looking crane, that is still going to take time, and even more, with imprecise folds, you quickly find yourself unable to perform the next step. See, the folds in origami are deeply mathematical in nature. The paper is a finite, two dimensional plane and you are transforming the plane into irrational space. Being patient with every fold, and being careful of how folds are folded is very important for ending up with a well folded crane.

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I decided to start folding after I went through a tough breakup at the beginning of January 2020. Over the course of the first year, I managed to only fold 800 of the 1000 I set out to make. It took me an additional 2 years to finish the last 200, so no wish lol. Every single one of those cranes captured a part of my day when I might have been bored and wanted something to do, a meeting where I needed something to do with my hands, a time where I felt sad about something and being able to bring myself to fold a crane was the little victory I needed. There were times when I would “rage fold”, something around me was making me upset so I channeled all my anger into cranking out cranes. I think my rage folding record was like 15?

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You also realize something about the reason about the origin of this tradition. Every year, people fold and bring 1000 cranes to the Hiroshima and Nagasaki. There is something deeply intimate about offering something that you spent at least 83 hours of your year doing. Every crane is a chance to meditate on what is happening around you. A time to accept yourself for what you have been capable of. A time to consider what you could be working on after you are done folding. Man, I would get terribly distracted when folding. I would often take a piece of paper, thinking I was going to fold it and then a few days later I would look at it and go “oh, right”. But the thing is, it was ok. Why wouldn’t it be? If I wanted my wish, I was going to have to work for it.

You truly have to be in a state of flow in order to get your wish. I am hesitant to say that this experience has “profoundly” changed me, but I can certainly say that this has reinforced what it means to have “small wins” every day, and the compounding effect that they can have. Someone told me that the reason the US Military is so strict on making your bed neatly every day is to serve as a simple task that you can look back on and be proud of yourself that you have achieved. I find it very fitting that I made my bed before I started counting my cranes to see if I had gotten to 1000.

If you have never heard of this before, or maybe have and have been curious, I highly encourage you to buy some origami paper (you don’t need to buy 1000, you can start with much less) and try to make just one crane. If you haven’t folded on before, I guarantee that there will be some struggle, but push through! My love, Erin, who is an artist, had a rough first attempt, but got it right on the next few. Let you work surprise you. I am not recommending that everyone try to fold 1000 cranes, I think that task is too daunting. Instead, just have some origami paper laying around (or even grabbing some printer paper and turning it into a square), play with it when you are bored. Check out this youtuber, I have been following them forever, and they are some of the best origami videos out there. Learn/try to teach with your partner, your kids, your friends, your family. Learning to fold a crane is something that is very subtly impressive and incredibly rewarding, in my opinion of course. I hope I was able to inspire you to try something new today!

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