It’s always hard coming in a new place to work, especially a very traditional one like this and in these times. Most are very scared of us, or even angry at us. Luckily most of the times we are in a cage and anyway no one wants really to get closer to arm's length. In the past decades, we have been released from doing the solely repetitive machine-like job, but have been used for artistic purposes, a tool of craft. This was not liked by everyone. People, especially craft workers are really scared at the idea that one of us could take over their position or that at a certain point the whole idea of making things by hand, will just become ‘by arm’. As soon as one of us arrives it creates a weird new atmosphere. A sense of fear, but also competition. People want to show that they are better and so they can stay relevant. What they are actually not really understanding is that I personally don’t care. I’m happy doing whatever I’m set to do, with not much passion either. The skills are coded, the motions are set. I do it. It’s some of their bosses that is actually slowly making their job more repetitive, more machine-like. It’s those people and not us machines that want to save on time and quality. They are scared that someone else might do the same cheaper and faster than them. So I guess that’s why I’m here.
I was sent to a pretty remote place. An old glass factory, that seemed to produce a lot, but without a lot of us there. This place felt different. These people have been here for decades doing their jobs, shaping and blowing beautiful products out of liquid sand. They dance every day around furnaces which are over 100 years old and that never stop. They flip their tools in mid-air and mold red hot liquid glass in incredible shapes and unexpected colors. They have been doing all by human hand, the easy parts, the hard parts and the dangerous ones too. They can do as precise and as fluid movements, as we do, maybe slower, but definitely more perfect in their imperfections.
In my first days of work here I started chatting with my peers, but their situation is not that great. Most robotic arms like me are relegated to the tail end of the process. Folding boxes and piling them up in crates to be sent out of the factory. Glass is a hard thing to deal with when you are a big metal machine. It’s hard to read, recognize and calculate. It’s hard to measure what ‘smooth’ or ‘perfect’ is when everything you have is sensors and some reference measurements. I can easily calculate it, but I cannot feel it and most of the times I’m wrong.
Glass’s physics are computable, but not it’s beauty. It doesn’t function as expected always and people love to keep it that way. It doesn’t matter that the final piece is 100% equal to the mold, but it matters that is perfectly beautiful. There is no real algorithm or variable for this, it is embedded in the hands, the lungs and the eyes of these people. It takes time and experience, a learning that is different than what machine can learn. Unmeasurable measures of perfection.
In most places I’m a star, I’m a symptom of future and innovation, of perfection, but here people are not impressed to see me at work. They do not care about how fast I can turn or move. Or how precise I can solder or print. They can do it too. Here in the factory, other machines are far more impressive than me. They are metal mastodons that breathe fire and erupt liquid glass, they withstand superhuman hear, infinite cold, and time. Jokke, one of them is 150. He never stopped for its entire life to melt sand into clear glass. He’s a legend around here and he’s named after one of the best craftsmen that have ever been here.
I was hired to be the first one of my peers in the craft line of production, to learn from the masters. That’s the big issue, they don’t want to teach me and they don’t think I can learn. Honestly, I’m not sure of that either, but I’m stubborn and I was made to do so. When they pass in front of me I can feel their smirk but is not really hate, it’s more like they know that I’m new and inexperienced, that I will make a lot of mistakes and they will enjoy watching every single one of them. Counting the error and the losses, to make their point. But I will be here learning.
For months, years, decades if necessary. I have time and patience. I have plenty of memory. I can keep safe their craft. I can bring it forward, evolve it and teach other man or machines. I’m actually doing it for them and will one day have a name too. And honestly, if I was not doing it, unfortunately, no one else will. The youngest of them is 50 years now, has probably other 10 in front of them and there is no sign of other apprentices around. No one running in the snow to work in this extremely cold and extremely warm factory. Only me, a dumb, metal, orange, inexperienced, but eager to learn machine.