‘I can’t really gouge her eyes out’: Art robot stopped at Egypt airport in spy fears

The artist was held in custody in Cairo for 10 days

Thomas Kingsley
Thursday 21 October 2021 09:12
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<p>Ai-Da is considered the world’s first AI powered artist</p>

Ai-Da is considered the world’s first AI powered artist

British artificial intelligence artist, Ai-Da was detained at an Egypt airport over fears she was involved in spying.

Ai-Da was set for her first show in Egypt before security forces denied her entry into the country and kept her in custody for 10 days. The issue has led to tensions between British and Egyptian diplomats as the British ambassador led talks to secure her release.

Ai-Da and her sculpture had been sent to Cairo by air cargo in specialised flight cases before the Forever is Now exhibition beginning on Thursday and running until 7 November.

“The British ambassador has been working through the night to get Ai-Da released, but we’re right up to the wire now,” Aidan Meller, Oxford art dealer and Ai-Da’s creator, told the Guardian prior to her release on Wednesday evening.

“I can’t take her eyes out. They are integral [to making her art],” Mr Meller said. “She would also look weird without them.”

“Let’s be really clear about this. 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.” He added: “Ai-Da would appreciate that irony, I think.”

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She was cleared through customs on Wednesday evening, hours before the exhibition was due to start, with the British embassy in Cairo saying they were “glad” the case had been resolved. Mr Meller thanked the British embassy and Art d’Égypte for their “amazing work” in trying to get her released.

Aidan Meller has called Ai-Da the “world’s first ultra-realistic artist.” Ai-Da draws with cameras in her eyes, AI algorithms and her robotic arm, the art dealer said. Named after the late computing pioneer Ada Lovelace, Ai-Da was built by a team of roboticists, art experts and psychologists in a multimillion-pound project that is updated as AI technology improves.

The AI-powered artist held her debut solo arts show at the University of Oxford and has since travelled the world showcasing her work with exhibitions in the Design Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Ai-Da’s work includes “the first self-portrait with no self” and collection of sculptures and paintings. Aidan Meller hopes Ai-Da will encourage discussion about the relationships and dynamics between machines and humans.

The Independent approached Cairo International Airport for comment.

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