Around late 1986, Sega released the “Sega AI Computer”. This is one of Sega’s least well known and rarest systems. Not much is known about this system apart from a small amount of information in Japanese and American flyers and press articles. The information we have is still piecemeal and may be partly inaccurate.
Today we are making public, for the first time: all system roms extracted from the Sega AI Computer, data dumps from 26 my-cards and 14 tapes, many scans and photographs, and in collaboration with MAME developers, an early working MAME driver allowing this computer to be emulated.
This seems to have been somehow related to Minky’s educational computer work (compare the Turtle Terminal TT2500, etc.)
Some further sources:
“A collection of images relating to the incredibly rare Sega AI Computer”: https://imgur.com/a/nb0IgHg#K2sQOwD
Advertising article: https://www.smspower.org/forums/files/segaai_03_128.jpg
(Part of this thread: https://www.smspower.org/forums/15004-SegaAIComputerSoftware )
Looks like the AI hook is for the inclusion of PROLOG in ROM as a system facility to be used by applications, and the application to be CAI - Computer Aided Instruction - sometimes also known, I think, as Programmed Learning. From the article:
Documents describe it as a full-featured computer with an educational twist. The system itself sports markings with a promising “SEGA PROLOG…. Bringing you into the world of artificial intelligence”.
Effectively all the software we found so far is educational and mostly aimed at kids. The system hardware was definitely not used to its maximum potential, although later 1988-1989 software titles are of higher quality than earlier ones. A US prototype suggests that some form of LISP exists, but we weren’t able to get access to it yet.
The Prolog interpreter appears to be used by existing software to allow some form of natural language processing. It doesn’t seem accessible to the end-user.
The idea of CAI explained as
In more advanced CAI applications, the computer is more flexible than previous systems. It can parse a user’s natural-language inputs and evaluate the person’s ability level. It can then proceed to material of appropriate difficulty, rather than simply advancing one level at a time.
Edit: as I understand it, there was an idea in education that computers could customise the lesson plan of each pupil, and that would be a revolution, instead of a class and a teacher and a single lesson plan. Not sure how much this matches the timeline, but perhaps the microprocessor reinvigorated the idea. Quite likely educational thinking in Japan was not exactly the same as other countries. Quite possibly SEGA’s ideas didn’t turn out to match then-current educational thinking.