Computer cyberpet could leave the goldfish gasping

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The Independent Online
What's blue, half-bird, half-dolphin, comes when you whistle and lives inside your computer screen?

The answer, it seems, is the new generation of cyberpet called Fin Fin. And for those who still prefer their animals to be warm-blooded and cuddly, the bad news is that this techno-creature, hailed as the world's first "artificial life" pet, is predicted to take Britain by storm.

The makers of Fin Fin claim it is far more advanced than the popular Tamagotchi, the pocket-sized product which "dies" if you do not look after it.

Although animal representations, such as swimming fish, have long been in use on computer screens, Fin Fin is a quantum leap away because it uses artificial intelligence to respond to and learn from the noises and actions of its human masters.

"It's like comparing cave man with 20th-century man," said Zoe Tomkins, of manufacturers Fujitsu. "They may be the same genetically but they are worlds apart."

The new pet can apparently respond to your voice, can sulk or hide and - as in real life - gets friendlier and more responsive the better you know him. And if you get to know Fin Fin really well, you will come across his partner, Mrs Fin Fin - the order of events perhaps reflecting the social outlook of its Japanese creators.

"It's certainly more responsive than a goldfish," said Ms Tomkins. "The way you treat Fin Fin will depend on how your relationship develops."

The creature lives on the planet Teo, curiously similar to Earth, and which also gets dark or light according to the time of day, and feeds on Lemo Fruits - virtual food which appears on the screen.

There are, however, a couple of snags with the cute mammal-bird; the CD-Rom which goes on sale at the end of next week will cost pounds 29.99, and you need to have a personal computer to use it.

Fin Fin is the spin-off from a $70m joint US/Japanese into the application of artificial intelligence. The serious side of the product - apart from its commercial advantages - is that one day it will be a little Fin Fin or his son/grandson which becomes the tool with which we run much of our lives.

"We will be asking a Fin Finto remember to cancel the milk when we go on holiday or order some food at the supermarket," said Ms Tomkins.

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