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Let Us All Appreciate The Beauty Of The Sega AI Computer, An Incredibly Rare 1980’s Console

Don't worry, it's not the bad AI

5:49 PM EST on February 1, 2024

SMS Power!, a group of Sega preservation enthusiasts, have just dumped a bunch of photos, details and code about a console that I'm going to be honest with you, I had never heard of until today. And deeply wish I had.

The Sega AI Computer was released back in 1986, and as the site says, was "one of Sega’s least well known and rarest systems". Primarily intended for use as an educational device--its marketing and limited releases were focused on schoolkids--its main hook was that it was going to be able to bring users "into the world of artificial intelligence".

SMS Power!

While AI sucks absolute dogshit today, back in 1986 the Sega AI Computer's goals were far more humble. Instead of setting out to steal the work of every artist who has ever lived and destabilise information channels, the console's AI would handle stuff like...a diary program:

In the prompt mode, the child is asked about his or her activities during the day and replies with one- and two-word answers. The computer program then writes a grammatically correct diary entry based on those replies.

Electronics Magazine, July 24, 1986

Aww, sweet. The big deal here isn't news of the console itself--while rare, it wasn't unknown--but the volume of stuff that SMS Power! have managed to procure, primarily through pouncing on some Japanese auctions. Not only did they secure a console and some of its accessories, but also a ton of games and supporting documentation, which has allowed the creation of an emulator (with download links for ROMs included) so you can try it out.

I find the "AI" thing funny, and preservationists getting hold of old hardware and games is always great, but look, a big reason I wanted to point this out today was because I just love the design of this thing so much. Sega Japan was really on one in the 1980s, as you can see below with my favourite console design of all time, the Sega Mark III:

I think the Sega AI Computer comes close to this! It's definitely got the same "computer unit found in the captain's quarters of a space anime" vibe to it, while the angular tape deck system on the left is about as perfect and complete a 1980s piece of Japanese hardware design you'll ever see.

SMS Power!

You should definitely check out the full write-up over at SMS Power!, which explains the saga of getting hold of everything, and also includes a detailed history of the console itself.

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