an extremely rare device from Sega from the 80s. What kind of device is this, and what’s more, is it artificial intelligence? / Hebrew

an extremely rare device from Sega from the 80s. What kind of device is this, and what’s more, is it artificial intelligence? / Hebrew

Recently, it became known about the most interesting artefact of technologies of the last century. Retro enthusiasts somehow managed to find and restore an unusual computer from Sega, released in 1986. It was not a game console, but a device intended for teaching computer literacy to children and teenagers. Moreover, the device related to the field of artificial intelligence. Of course, it wasn’t ChatGPT at all, but the technology is interesting. Details – under the cat.

What kind of device is this?

An 8-bit computer released by Sega in 1986. It was announced as the first home PC with artificial intelligence (AI – Artificial Intelligence). Unfortunately, there is no information about the price or the number of copies produced. It is only known that the company released software from 1986 to 1988. Here are its characteristics:

  • year: 1986

  • chip: 16-bit NEC V20, 5 Mhz

  • RAM: only 512 KB, 2 × 64 KB system memory (Operating System, Prolog), 1 × 128 KB ROM, 2 × 128 KB speech ROM

  • internal memory: 128 KB

  • SOFTWARE: Supplied on Sega My Cards (128 KB to 256 KB) and on cassettes

  • video: Yamaha V9938 (Resolution 256 × 212) with 64 KB VRAM

  • sound: SN76489 PSG

  • data entry: Touch surface with overlays, 8-directions pad + 3 buttons

  • ports and connectors: microphone, RS232 Centronics port

  • cassette “drive”: 9600 bps

  • optional keyboard

  • optional Sound Box with YM2151 FM chip

The system also had touch input. True, it was not a screen, but rather an overlay of a touch interface on certain programs and games. But the device was so advanced that it was possible to draw with it.

Who is all this for?

As far as we could find out, the device was supplied mainly to schools. It was either not intended for individual use at all, or simply did not have time to get to a large number of owners. By the way, there is an advertisement for that time that also mentions the USA, not just Japan.

Namely, there were plans to release the system in the US in 1987 under the name SEGA DI 8300, but this did not happen.

And the device that is now being described was assembled modularly, individual components, manuals and boxes were bought on eBay and other online sites.

So, what about artificial intelligence?

Here, of course, everything is modest, but for its time the computer had unusual capabilities. Yes, it came with the Prolog language, which the developers promised would “bring you into the world of artificial intelligence.” According to “Wikipedia”, in the 1980s, the Prolog language was included in a number of Soviet university and school computer science textbooks for the study of elements of mathematical logic, principles of logic programming and the design of knowledge bases and models of expert systems. For this purpose, educational Russian-language Prolog interpreters were implemented on IBM PC and a number of Soviet school computers.

In language, facts are described in the form of logical predicates with specific meanings. Inference rules are described by logical predicates with the definition of logical inference rules as a list of predicates over knowledge bases and information processing procedures.

As for the computer, the system could communicate with the owner (of course, not like modern digital assistants). So, the device asked the child about his daily affairs and, taking into account the answers, formed the daily routine. In addition, there were more advanced applications capable of analyzing the user’s answers to various questions and evaluating the respondent’s abilities. If it was developing software, then the user was immediately given the level to which his answers corresponded.

And the accessory is equipped with a built-in speech synthesizer, which is able to create the basic phonemes of the Japanese language, plus a chip designed to play audio samples.

On the project page, by the way, there are examples of restored audio samples from computer memory.

An extremely rare device

This computer survived only by a miracle. Retro enthusiasts have heard of it, but the vast majority of geeks have never even seen photos. It was only by chance that I managed to buy a device at the Yahoo Auctions auction (Yahoo is still relevant in Japan). A little later, enthusiasts managed to get about 15 different programs, information about which was not available anywhere at all – if it were not for a random purchase, they would not have known about them.

The geek community has gone to the trouble of saving all these ROMs and even creating a new driver for MAME that already allows “partial emulation” of the system (which doesn’t yet include keyboard, streamer, or language emulation support).

The games and software look very good, they are shown below on the chest.

Here is what can already be downloaded, the data is taken from 14 cassettes, the total volume is 1.2 GB:

  • Alice World [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Andersen Dream [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Arabian Night [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Cinderella Labyrinth [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Columbus Map [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Cosmic Train [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Folk and Fairy Tales – Eigo de Ohanashi 1 (Tape Side A).

  • Folk and Fairy Tales – Eigo de Ohanashi 1 (Tape Side B).

  • Folk and Fairy Tales – Eigo de Ohanashi 2 (Tape Side A).

  • Folk and Fairy Tales – Eigo de Ohanashi 2 (Tape Side B).

  • Gulliver’s Pocket [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Mozart Academy [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Ocean Fantasy [Tape version] (Tape).

  • Popo’s Adventure – Eigo de Game 1 – Popo no Yume (Tape).

  • Popo’s Adventure – Eigo de Game 2 – Popoland no Himitsu (Tape).

  • Robinson Land [Tape version] (Tape).

Currently, digital archeology work on this device is still ongoing, so we may have new surprises in the future. But now most of the work has been completed, and one can only marvel at the zeal of the community, which was able not only to purchase the device, but also to restore its programs, sound samples, etc.

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