Back around 1997, my brother brought home a really strange game called Fin Fin on Teo the Magic Planet.
It was billed as the PC’s answer to Tamagotchi, but instead of raising a cute creature in your pocket you had to deal with a messed up looking dolphin with wings.
The goal of the game is to make Fin Fin your friend and you do this by making sounds, offering it fruit, and interacting with it.
Our version of the game came with a microphone that you could use to talk to Fin Fin. You used voice commands to get Fin Fin to come over to you or perform actions, but I think the best we were able to do was scream enough to get it to eat some fruit.
Most of the time Fin Fin would just fly off to another setting, so seeing animations like the one below were extremely rare occurrences.
Fin Fin was developed by Fujitsu and released in 1996. It was also produced by Makoto Tezuka, the son of mangaka Osamu Tezuka. Why is that notable? It isn’t, really.
While Fin Fin had a Tezuka behind it, most of the technology the game was based around was developed in the United States. As this article from Wired in 1997 explains the Japanese developers were there mostly gussy up the experience.
The software was really part of a larger discussion at the time around virtual pets and artificial intelligence.
From that same Wired article:
Byron Reeves, a Stanford communications professor who studies the human tendency to treat media as independent beings, says virtual pets may perform many of the same functions as real ones.
Reeves also points out that the awareness of artificial intelligence in consumer software is growing. “It’s the holy grail. There’s a bunch of people very seriously thinking about how to develop these kinds of life-like features, back them up with good technology, and incorporate them into interfaces to do all sorts of things.” Reeves points out that the “office assistants,” animations of helpers in the new Microsoft Office ’97, are not just cute and fun, but allow functions to exist outside of a toolbar – a social realm in which humans are more at home.
I never thought of Clippy as anything more than a bit of light entertainment, but I guess it’s an ancestor of programs like Siri and Alexa.
But was Fin Fin really an experiment in artificial intelligence? I guess so. If nothing else, I think it showed what technological hurdles still needed to be overcome for a true simulation of intelligence to exist.
The biggest hurdle for my brothers and I was the microphone, but now every device comes with one and they’re listening to us constantly — mostly to learn what to sell us.
I guess the evolution of this genre has really become those devices like Google Home and Alexa although I wouldn’t mind my digital assistant being a weird, screeching dolphin bird.