Egyptian border guards released robot artist Ai-Da

Image credit: BBC

After being detained at customs by Egyptian authorities, a British-built robot that utilises cameras and a robotic arm to produce abstract art has been released.

Border authorities arrested Ai-Da, named after mathematician Ada Lovelace, last week, fearing that her robotics were concealing clandestine spy gear.

Officials detained the robot for ten days, jeopardising preparations to display her work at Giza’s Great Pyramid on Thursday. Border guards apprehended Ai-Da after becoming suspicious of her modem, according to designer Aidan Meller, before raising concerns about her camera.

Mr. Meller offered to take away the modem, but said he couldn’t take away the cameras, which Ai-Da needs to paint. The robot uses artificial intelligence (AI) to transform the images captured by its camera into pieces of art. He told the Guardian, “I can get rid of the modems, but I can’t take her eyes out.”

Mr. Meller complimented the work of the British ambassador, who he said had been working through the night to have Ai-Da released, but noted that her late release would make getting her ready for the Thursday display difficult. “We’re down to the wire right now,” he remarked.

The piece was supposed to be part of Egypt’s first contemporary art display in 4,500 years. Before the “Forever Is Now” show, which runs until November 7, both Ai-Da and her sculpture were sent to Cairo in specialised flying boxes via air cargo.

Her clay sculpture is based on the Greek sphinx riddle: what happens four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet at night? Using a walking stick, a human goes through the stages of being a baby, an adult, and finally old age.

A sculpture of Ai-Da with three legs is her rendition of the ancient Greek riddle. Ai-Da was completed in 2019, and her work, which features the first “self-portrait with no self,” has been shown at London’s Design Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum.

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