Artist robot released from Egyptian customs detention

British-made Ai-da freed after 10 days, just in time for opening of Pyramids art exhibition on Thursday

Ai-Da in front of one of 'her' artworks. Getty
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A British-made artist robot has been released from Egyptian customs after 10 days, just hours before she was due to appear at the opening of an art exhibition at the Pyramids of Giza on Thursday.

Ai-da and her sculpture were detained because of concerns about her modem, a device that connects her to the internet, and cameras mounted in her eyes.

Both were released late on Wednesday after the British ambassador intervened.

“The embassy is glad to see that Ai-da the artist robot has now been cleared through customs,” the British embassy in Cairo said in a statement to The National.

“Customs clearance procedures can be lengthy, and are required before importation of any artworks or IT equipment. We’re glad to see that this particular case has now been resolved,” it said.

The Egyptian Customs Authority did not respond to a request for comment.

Ai-da was due to participate as a special guest in the Forever is Now exhibition at the pyramids. The show, which runs until November 7, features 10 international contemporary artists and is organised by Art d’Egypte in partnership with the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

UK-based gallery owner Aidan Meller, the creator of Ai-Da, told The Guardian that the situation was “really stressful” and thanked the British embassy and Art d’Egypte for securing her release.

He said he was willing to “ditch the modems” but “can’t really gouge her eyes out”.

Named after the 19th-century British computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da was built two years ago by a team of programmers, roboticists, art experts and psychologists.

Two Egyptian engineers, Salah El Abd and Ziad Abbas, were part of the development team, according to Art d’Egypte.

Ai-Da, the world’s first ultra-realistic artist robot, draws using cameras in her eyes, AI algorithms and her robotic arm. Her work has been displayed at the University of Oxford, London’s Design Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Her 2 x 2.5-metre sculpture for the Pyramids exhibition plays on an ancient riddle of the Sphinx: “What goes on four feet in the morning, two feet at noon, and three feet in the evening?”

The answer is a human – referring to toddlers who crawl, adults who walk and the elderly who need a cane to support themselves.

Ai-Da will have a solo exhibition at the Cairo International Art District, organised by Art d’Egypte in parallel with the Forever is Now show, starting on Sunday until October 27.

Updated: October 21, 2021, 10:52 PM