Robot Artist Ai-Da Held at Customs for 10 Days in Egypt

Security was concerned about espionage

Ai-Da the humanoid AI robot artist on display at the Great Pyramids of Giza on October 23, 2021 in Cairo, Egypt.
Sima Diab/Getty Images

Read enough about artists and musicians traveling around the world and you’ll likely encounter an account of someone getting stopped at a border for an overly long period of time. Considered in that light, what the artist Ai-Da experienced getting into Egypt for an exhibit at the pyramids is similar to the issues that have befallen generations of artists. There’s also one big difference, though — Ai-Da is, in fact, a robot, which put a very different spin on her experience.

Nadia Khomami’s article at The Guardian provides a good overview of why Ai-Da was heading to Egypt and what caused the delay at customs. Ai-Da’s hardware includes both cameras and a modem, leading some security personnel to worry that she was being used for espionage. Eventually, the British ambassador was called in to help clarify things. After 10 days in customs, Ai-Da was allowed into the country, in time for the exhibition.

Forever is Now, an art show held at the pyramids in Giza, was organized by the Egyptian group Art D’Égypte. As ARTnews reported, it’s the latest in a series of high-profile engagements for the robotic artist. A virtual exhibit at The Design Museum offers more information on how exactly Ai-Da creates her work and interacts with the environment around her.

In a recent interview with designboom, Ai-Da’s creator Aidan Meller addressed her impact on the discourse around art and technology. “Ai-Da was designed to be able to encourage discussion about future technologies, and we are delighted by her success,” Meller said. “By her continuing ability to stimulate conversation in audiences about our future, she questions how we can manage the uses/abuses of the enormous power new technologies are giving people.” And now, Ai-Da is also stimulating conversations about art and security — an interesting wrinkle on an existing debate.

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