Opinion

The Dystopian Possibilities of a Drawing Machine

(All images courtesy of Saurabh Datta)
Saurabh Datta’s Teacher (all images courtesy Saurabh Datta)

For all those who could never quite manage a straight line in Drawing 101, Saurabh Datta may have an answer. For his thesis at Copenhagen’s Institute of Interaction Design, Datta developed an odd little machine that, when strapped to the wrist, will be sure to make you draw that line straight and get you an A.

To use Teacher, as Datta has dubbed it, someone a bit more adept than the student must first do a drawing while wearing the device. The machine records those movements, then repeats them, forcing the next wearer’s hand and wrist to align with the strokes in its memory. If the prototype were ever produced on a large scale, it seems like it could be a brilliant learning tool, eliminating the endless trial and error that constitutes every art student’s existence.

Yet, the device is also disconcerting. It’s hard to not get carried away imagining all the twisted scenarios in which it might be misused. Picture an art school where you could never create anything of your own, a state where the government uses Teacher to force artists to produce propaganda, or, even worse, a world where we don’t use robots to draw, but they use us.

Such dark possibilities aren’t lost on Datta; in fact, they’re an integral part of the project. “The whole notion is to understand when machines start knowing more about you and they start showing that to you as feedback — sometimes which may appear against our will,” he writes on his website. “On one hand it can act as a a teacher and on the other it might appear as machines are operating us.”

teacher 2
Saurabh Datta’s Teacher

For now, the device remains an experiment, though future widespread use of something similar doesn’t seem that unrealistic. I’m reminded of Bond, the company that’s developed a machine that can print personal correspondence to look as if it were actually written by a human — presumably for those too busy to enjoy the pleasure that a true handwritten note brings. Such curious developments are exciting, but I wonder what we lose in embracing them. As far as drawing goes, nothing can replace the joy of striving, stroke after stroke, for the line that is, in the end, sensuously dark and utterly perfect.

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