‘Can you identify your assailants?’ Yes, they were pixelated! I’d know them anywhere!

‘Can you identify your assailants?’ Yes, they were pixelated! I’d know them anywhere!

Something for the Weekend, Sir? Stop that uterus! It stole my wallet!

What do you mean, “Can you identify the uterus in question?” It looked like a uterus! Or, as we’ve been singing it all through Christmas, a wooooom*.

Talk about getting the new year off to a bad start – I’ve just been robbed by a delinquent reproductive organ. Yet the all signs were there: I knew 2022 would be doomed back in early December when I read that the Salzburg Schokolade company, inventors of the mighty last-minute-airport-gift-shop chocolate ball Mozartkugel, had gone bust.

No, an oversize Toblerone will not suffice. M&Ms? In the bin, pal. Mr Ambassador, you can stick your Ferrero Rochers up your arse. Mozartkugeln were my faux-posh-but-actually-quite-cheap traveller chocs of choice. And now they’re gone forever!

First Bowie, then this. The world is falling apart.

A kindly officer of the law tries to bring me back to my senses following my unexpected mugging. Yes, thank you, I would like a drink. I’ll have an Adios Motherfucker*, please.

Without batting an eyelid, the policewoman strides down the corridor to the drinks machine, taps a few buttons on the display and returns after just 30 seconds with my glass of blue liquid revival. That was quick. The drinks machine must be a Mixo Two: an ingenious local invention that claims to be able to mix any of 300 cocktails in half a minute.

I glug it down, spit out the lemon slice and cherry, and hand back the little umbrella. I decide I’m feeling particularly agitated and may well need more calming down. 299 to go.

Now that my thoughts are clearing, I admit it’s possible my assailant might not have been a uterus after all. It might have been a whole human. I tell my police interviewers that my initial impression of a uterus suggests that it may have been a woman. I am lectured for the next 10 minutes on my questionable observation with the aid of infographics and a flipchart.

Choosing my words more carefully, I try to provide a full description of the thief. It all happened so fast. The last thing I remember, I had escaped the pandemonium at home – workers fixing the WC again – and settled down in a nearby cafe for a break. Well, primarily for a pee in their restroom, then I felt obliged to order a coffee. While waiting for it to arrive, I opened my laptop and continued browsing the hundreds of images taken during Mme D’s recent MRI scan.

Here’s one.

Protect the innocent: to avoid identification by a web-scraping AI, this uterus has been pixelated. [Click to enlarge]

Prior to this, my only knowledge of MRI scanning comes from British colleagues at the IEEE who are finalising the unveiling of an IEEE Milestone plaque to commemorate the development in London during the 1980s of active shielding of superconducting magnets.

Mme D had a more detailed prior knowledge of MRI scanning as the result of watching every episode of House on Netflix. She reported that her only disappointment was that the operators seemed to concentrate on the scan rather than discuss their sex lives or call each other an idiot before suddenly dashing out the room after answering a call on their cellphone.

What neither of us expected was to be handed a CD of the highlights.

It doesn’t just contain a folder of images but a Windows autoplay program to browse them in detail. My favourite feature of the CD is the Cinema View, which plays back the scans at 25 frames per second. In fact, I had settled down in the living room with a Kia-Ora and carton of popcorn to watch Mme D’s innards on the big screen when the workmen arrived and enforced an early intermission.

It was when the coffee arrived at my table that I realised my wallet was not in my usual pocket, or indeed in any of my unusual pockets either. “Robbed!” I wailed. “No tip!” wailed the waiter. The police were duly called.

What was the last thing I saw before the incident? Er… a uterus. I describe it in as much detail as possible, at 25 frames per second.

So, I ask, are you going run it through your vast, secretive photo-fit database of the population, using some whizzy AI to shortlist the candidates?

Ah no, they respond, we’re not allowed to do that. And then they wink. All of them, in sync, which is a bit creepy. Then I am sent on my way, gently steered back up the corridor in the opposite direction from the Mix Two.

This is the usual conundrum. Scraping the net for the purposes of building a database for security services is still illegal unless you have really good PR, and the use of AI to crawl around the net and randomly apply face recognition to identify ne’er-do-wells is ethically dubious. In most cases, it can’t be done at all (yet).

On the other hand, machine learning is a fabulous tool for health research, if only we can throw enough data at it. The problem is that more people would be happy to share their medical data if they thought it wouldn’t be subsequently misused. And it will always be misused: that’s what personal data is for.

The last thing I’d want is for my photo to turn up on a hit-list of Interpol’s most-wanted criminal uteruses.

Back home, I am comforted by Mme D, who had been wondering what had prompted me to leave the house while a team of plumbers, electricians, interior decorators, plasterers, architects, stone masons, ironmongers, seismologists, stage illusionists, tap dance instructors, steel drummers, and celtic swordsmen were trampling all over it to refit the toilet for the fifth time.

I mumble a reply, collect the now-soggy popcorn and drag myself back into my office.

“By the way,” she calls, “you left your wallet on the kitchen table so I locked it in the filing cabinet.”

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Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. Back when he ran an office in London’s trendy Hoxton, he attended several cocktail workshops – an essential skill for the Silicon Roundabout crowd. The one thing he learnt was that everything is topped up with sugar water. Bleuh. More at Autosave is for Wimps and @alidabbs.

*As an infant, I reasoned that “wooooom” was the kind of thing that a sheet-clad apparition moans while a haunting a castle. It was the holy ghost.

Vodka, rum, tequila, gin, blue curacao, 7 Up, sweet & sour mix.

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