Ai-Da — the British robot that made history as the world’s first AI humanoid artist — was seized by Egyptian border agents last week, on the way to her first exhibition in the country. Scheduled to show works at the Great Pyramid of Giza, the ultra-lifelike robot was apparently suspected of being part of an undercover espionage effort.
As reported by the BBC, Ai-Da has now been released after being held for 10 days by Egyptian authorities, who detained her at customs. “The Embassy is glad to see that Ai-Da the artist robot has now been cleared through customs,” says the UK’s embassy in Cairo. “Customs clearance procedures can be lengthy, and are required before importation of any artworks or IT equipment.”
Aiden Meller, the creator of Ai-Da, claims that border guards detained the groundbreaking robot because they were suspicious about her modem. They also raised questions about her “eyes”, which are actually cameras that she uses to produce drawings based on algorithmic responses to what she observes.
“It’s really stressful,” Meller told the Guardian on Wednesday (October 20), after Ai-Da was seized. He added that it wasn’t possible to fully disassemble Ai-Da to assist with the authorities’ inspections, saying: “I can ditch the modems, but I can’t really gouge her eyes out.”
“She is an artist robot, let’s be really clear about this,” he goes on. “She is not a spy. People fear robots, I understand that. But the whole situation is ironic, because the goal of Ai-Da was to highlight and warn of the abuse of technological development, and she’s being held because she is technology.”
“Ai-Da would appreciate that irony, I think.”
Ai-Da is in Egypt for the exhibition Forever Is Now, organised by Art D’Égypte in collaboration with the Egyptian ministry of antiquities and tourism, and the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs. The show will run until November 7, and Ai-Da has contributed a sculpture based on the riddle of the Sphinx.
Previously, the humanoid artist also exhibited a series of “selfies” at London’s Design Museum, after being taught to observe herself in a mirror. Earlier this year, meanwhile, she made her modeling debut at London Fashion Week in a shapeshifting, biological gown by cyber couture house Auroboros (take a closer look in the gallery above).