Robot Artist Freed By Egyptian Customs After Spy Detention

A British-built robot that uses artificial intelligence and a mechanical arm to create art has been released by customs officials in Egypt ahead of an exhibition this week.

Ai-Da, named after the mathematician Ada Lovelace, was seized by officials earlier this month over concerns “her” machinery could contain espionage tools.

The device was held for 10 days as the British embassy worked with Cairo on the matter.

“The Embassy is glad to see that Ai-Da the artist robot has now been cleared through customs,” the UK’s embassy in Cairo said in a statement.

An artwork by Ai-Da. Image credit: Aidan Meller

Spying fears

“Customs clearance procedures can be lengthy, and are required before importation of any artworks or IT equipment.”

Aidan Meller, the robot’s creator, said customs officials had shown concern that Ai-Da’s modem and cameras could contain spy electronics.

Meller offered to remove the modem, but said the cameras were essential to Ai-Da’s ability to paint.

“I can ditch the modems, but I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” he told the Guardian.

He said the British ambassador had been “working through the night to get Ai-Da released” and that it would now be difficult to prepare the robot for the exhibition on Thursday.

An artwork by Ai-Da. Image credit: Aidan Meller

AI art

Ai-Da is scheduled to be part of the first-ever exhibition of contemporary art at the 4,500-year-old Giza pyramids.

The “Forever Is Now” exhibition is to run until 7 November, featuring Ai-Da along with one of her sculptures, an interpretation of the riddle of the Sphynx in Greek mythology.

The riddle is: what goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?  A human going through the stages of life, from a baby to old age using a walking stick. The robot’s interpretation of this is a sculpture of Ai-Da with three legs.

Since being completed in 2019 Ai-Da has given media interviews and displayed art at the Design Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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