Furby. Toy. Tiger Electronics, Ltd., a division of Hasbro, Inc. For Christmas, 1998.
Toy craze for Christmas 1998, described by company press release (winter 1998) as a "cuddly standalone [rather triangular] animatronic pet [a bit over 6" high] . . . [that] interacts with the environment through sight, touch, hearing and physical orientation. Each animated electronic plush toy is unique, intelligent and equipped with a singular personality and name. Furby can move and dance. Other motion includes eyes that open and close, ears that wiggle and a mouth that moves when speaking. Furby has its own language, 'Furbish,' but learns to speak English through positive reinforcement. Furbys communicate with each other via infrared signals, and can teach each other tricks and songs. They can also catch one another's colds. The electronics are fully integrated into each pet; no additional equipment or computer is required." A website offering the results of a Furby "autopsy" suggests that Furby is not really a heuristic cybernetic device far smaller and a bit earlier than the Terminator or HAL 9000, but "simulates learning by slowly displaying different subsets of it's [sic] preprogrammed vocabulary and behavior over time. A 'newborn' Furby is programmed to use only a portion of it's [sic] full capabilities initially, and, over time, will slowly change which preprogrammed capabilities it displays." Basically, according to these skeptics the Furby does "not have the ability to develop new behavior or vocabulary based on . . . experiences. Everything a Furby can ever do was preprogrammed during design and simply triggered at the appropriate time." Still, the company press release cites, "Furby could be the first of an entire race of artificially intelligent 'special feature plush' toys," according to Wired Magazine (September, '98), so the mimicking of learning seems to be very impressive. See under Fiction, H. Harrison's "I Always Do What Teddy Says" for a very intelligent but quite different toy.