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Egyptian authorities 'detain' robotic artist for 10 days over espionage fears

No, seriously.

Robot artist 'Ai-Da' sketches using a pencil attached to her robotic arm, while standing next to a painting based on her computer vision data when run through algorithms developed by computer scientists in Oxford, Britain June 4, 2019. Picture taken June 4, 2019. REUTERS/Matthew Stock
Matthew Stock / reuters
Andrew Tarantola
Andrew Tarantola|@terrortola|October 20, 2021 4:43 PM

The robotic artist known as Ai-Da was scheduled to display her artwork alongside the great pyramids of Egypt on Thursday, though the show was nearly called off after both the robot and her human sculptor, Aidan Meller, were detained by Egyptian authorities for a week and a half until they could confirm that the artist was actually a spy.

The incident began when border guards objected over Ai-da's camera eyes, which it uses in its creative process, and its on-board modem. “I can ditch the modems, but I can’t really gouge her eyes out,” Meller told The Guardian. The robot artist, which was built in 2019, typically travels via specialized cargo case and was held at the border until clearing customs on Wednesday evening, hours before the exhibit was scheduled to begin.

“The British ambassador has been working through the night to get Ai-Da released, but we’re right up to the wire now,” Meller said, just before Ai-Da was sprung from robo-jail. “It’s really stressful.”

Ai-Da is slated to participate in the Forever is Now exhibit, which is slated to run through November 7th and features a number of leading Egyptian and international artists, is being presented by Art D’Égypte in conjunction with the Egyptian ministry of antiquities and tourism and the Egyptian ministry of foreign affairs.

“She is an artist robot, let’s be really clear about this. She is not a spy," Meller declared. "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.”


Egyptian authorities 'detain' robotic artist for 10 days over espionage fears