Art is typically thought of as a very human pursuit; machines are incapable of the type of soul needed to create memorable pieces of creative work. But is it possible for humans and machines to cooperate in the creation of art? The Self Portrait Machine makes hybrid art that uses the precision of a machines to guide human hands in drawing human portraits.

The machine takes a picture of a human and then guides that human’s hands to create a precision self-portrait. The human’s hands and wrists are tied to the machine as the forearms rest on small platforms. The machine’s moving parts glide around, guiding the person’s pen-holding hands in exactly the right way.

The success and level of detail in the portraits, according to creator Jen Hui Liao, depend on how much the subject cooperates and how much time the subject is willing to spend being guided around by the drawing hand. Just as in human-created art, these portraits vary greatly in appearance and content.

When the portrait is done, it looks like a very stylized – yet still usually very recognizable – version of the model. The question is whether to give credit for that portrait to the machine or the human. Neither could create the works of art without the other, yet neither can exactly be considered an artist. At best, we can say that this unique effort could not exist without the very unusual cooperation between human and machine.