Furby, the stuffed animatronic “it” toy of 1998, was the first plaything that actually became smarter as you played with it. Furby came out of its box speaking “Furbish,” a goo goo gaga baby talk, but over time would “learn” human language (in this case English)—a process resembling language development in humans. This development was simulated, of course: Furby came preprogrammed with all the words and phrases it was ever going to know.
Nevertheless, a rumour spread that Furby’s language- learning mechanism relied on hearing and imitating its owner—a fact that, if true, meant the must-have cyberpet of the late-nineties was actually a recording device. With Soviet espionage fears still lingering, the U.S. government naturally grew paranoid. On January 13, 1999, the National Security Agency announced a ban on all Furbies inside its headquarters for fear the furry little gremlins—whomever they were working for—might go blabbing national security secrets to the whole world.