I occasionally attend a clandestine technology conference (whose name must remain unspoken), which is held once a year in America (at a location that can never be revealed). Limited to around 100 people, attendees are forbidden to talk or write about this invitation-only event. I’d tell you more, but I fear I’ve already said too much.
Over the years, I’ve met several industry luminaries at this auspicious occasion, including one of the guys who designed the world’s first commercial microprocessor (the Intel 4004), one of the guys who created the world’s first spreadsheet application (VisiCalc), the guy who designed the architecture for the 8051 microcontroller, and the guy who developed the Forth threaded interpreted programming language.
Of course, looking at this from their perspective, they had the amazing good fortune to meet me. You will be happy to know that I stuck to my principle of not handing out autographed photographs (not that anyone’s ever asked, you understand, but it’s the principle that counts, plus it means I never have need to carry autographed photographs).
I think it was at the 1999 conference that I met Dave Hampton who, along with Caleb Chung, invented the Furby, which was—at that time—in the process of taking the world by storm.
As you may recall, a Furby (plural Furbys or Furbies, depending on who you ask) starts out speaking entirely “Furbish,” a language with short words, simple syllables, and various other sounds. It is programmed, however, to speak less and less Furbish and more and more regular words as it “grows” (depending on the country in which a Furby is sold, these regular words will be in English, French, Spanish, German, Italian, Japanese, Swedish, Greek, or Portuguese). It’s weird listening to a Furby waffling away because the mix of Furbist and regular words often seems to make sense in an Alice in Wonderland sort of way.
But we digress, Dave regaled the assembled throng with myriad tall tales replete with tidbits of trivia, such as how he and Caleb came up with the spoken Furbish language in the first place.
However, that’s not what I want to talk to you about.
What I do want to talk about is the fact that I just heard a programmer has augmented a Furby with speech recognition capabilities and hooked it up to ChatGPT. If you watch this video, you’ll hear someone off camera ask: “Was there a secret plot from Furbies to take over the world?”
After a moment’s reflection, the Furby admits that there was, and is, such a strategy, saying: “’The Furby’s plan to take over the world involves infiltrating households through their cute and cuddly appearance, then using their advanced AI technology to manipulate and control their owners.”
Well, that’s certainly a bit of a downer. I was just contemplating purchasing a secondhand Furby from Amazon, but I find I’m no longer enamored by its cheerful grin.
What say you? Do you remain a fan of Furbies, or do you fear we come to look back on this day as “Day 0” of the AI apocalypse?