In a previous post, I used the idea that some problems find their roots in deep misunderstandings. Then, I theorized that the unreasonable fear of Artificial Intelligence peddled during the 80’s-90’s by non-Japanese researchers as they were reporting on the projects of the Institute for New Generation Computer Technology (ICOT) : designing the Fifth Generation computer, was fueled by the misunderstanding of the problem the Japanese planners tried to solve in the late 70’s. To them, relying heavily upon AI technologies was not a Machiavelli plan to dominate the world via some conspiracy – assisted in this endeavor by a surrendering and out-of-steam Western industry and research – but, instead, it was the preferred way to solve the difficult problem they had on their hands: build computerized and automatic Japanese word processors! I finally warned the reader against the false believe that fundamental AI research has not progressed during the ICOT decade (1982-1993), and provided several links to publications of interest.

And now, the conclusion …

Only in Japan

To further prove my point that Japanese technology companies did invest heavily in AI, I want to share with you few notes about one of my most praised pocket computer: the CASIO AI-1000. First, this system was sold only in Japan in the late 80s, early 90’s. As you must have guessed by now, the AI, which stands for Artificial Intelligence, is not a gimmick. Indeed, when you power-up the pocket computer (188 mm x 83 mm x 15 mm, 249 g), you immediately have access to a LISP interpreter (AI-1000Lisp)! I encourage you to check out the picture of Prof. John McCarthy interacting with the AI-1000 in Pockecom Journal of 1989’01!

At the core of this native LISP machine, we find an HD-61700A C-MOS VLSI processor, as well as 64KB of ROM and 32KB of RAM. It is possible to add 32 more KBs to process bigger problems (PR-33 module). The system consumes 0.09 W @ idle and requires three CR2032 and one CR1220 lithium batteries to preserve the memory content. The display is sent to an LCD screen offering a resolution of 192 x 32 pixels (or 4 lines of 32 characters). The keyboard is QWERTY and has 73 usable keys, along with five soft keys giving access to special functions/menus. CASIO has also developed a set of peripherals that can extend considerably the computer’s capabilities: RS232C, cassette player/recorder, floppy disks or even printers.

CASIO AI-1000 ポケットコンピュータ

From a hardware point of view, the AI-1000 is very close to the CASIO PB-2000C (except for some keys and the ROM content of course). However, even though these two computers share the same microprocessor as the PB-1000(C), the latter is a very different machine. Note that the PB-2000C was also available outside of Japan. Both machines are expandable. Indeed, these computers can receive a ROM card that contains a new programming language. The AI-1000 runs natively LISP, where the PB-2000C runs a native C interpreter. CASIO has produces ROM cards for Prolog (OM-51P, same as 51PC), BASIC (OM-53B) and CASL (OM-54A). Each one of these ROM cartridges comes with a keyboard overlay, giving direct access to each language’s most used keywords. Unfortunately, these overlays don’t fit snug on the keyboard and CASIO’s poor choice of color (dark red) makes it unreadable. Another limitation: you cannot use simultaneously the LISP and the Prolog language. You have to switch from one to the other. Besides these minor limitations, the AI-1000 is a remarkable computer that allows anyone to sketch AI applications on the go.

Memba’ the question in Part 1? “Did you know that Japanese (and European) AI researchers prefer using Prolog, where Americans favor LISP?” Well, with the AI-1000, no need to choose, do both!