Ho hum: If you're so artificially intelligent, name this song while my videos go viral

My careful plan to save the economy


Something for the Weekend, Sir? People say I don’t care but I do. I care a lot.

I take meticulous care over my writing, for example [snort], and of course over the painstaking research that precedes it. And I take extra-special care over the frantic factual correction and legal backtracking required after it has gone live. Basically, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well after sending in the invoice.

In my early days of freelancy (as the LinkedIn crowd sometimes call it), I would earn a crust reviewing computers and peripherals. I would pay particular care and attention to the reviewing process, from unpacking to benchmarking to repacking. This might sound like money for old rope but just you try lab-testing 14 A3 colour network laser printers at once, at a time when each such device was the size of a pony.

It's a dirty job but someone's got to do it.

This specific comparative printer review is branded forever in my memory because the computer magazine I was writing for did not have enough lab space at its offices to accommodate all 14. So I had them delivered to my house instead. Having borrowed a grown-up router and purchased a kilometre of CAT5 from Maplin on the high street, my network sprayed across gigantic printers installed in my home office, the hallway, the living room, the kitchen and one of the children’s bedrooms (ground floor), plus a couple in the garage. The rest of my garage was stuffed all the way up to the spiders on ceiling with forklift pallets, 0.5in thick cardboard boxes and squeaky polystyrene packaging.

You see? I care a lot.

It all went without a hitch. The only niggle was that none of the palleted crates would fit through my front door so I had to unpack the printers outside before bringing them in. But then I'm good at unpacking and repacking. Just think, if had I been born a couple of decades later, I could have earned an income not by professionally and thoroughly torture-testing and benchmarking IT products but simply by YouTubing myself taking pissy little shitgadgets out of their fucking little boxes and reading aloud the spec printed on the back like an inarticulate pin-headed twit.

I gave up the reviewing lark a long time ago, ever since that day when a magazine asked me to review seven pro-class graphic design software programs for a flat fee of £60. After what I said to the editor, there’s no going back.

Mind you, I could always give it a go on my own. Yeah, why not? Sod equestrian-proportioned peripherals, I’ll test something really small and easy, video it and upload it to YouTube, then become a sensation! A celebrity! Or if I lose all sense of shame and dignity, an influencer!

Apparently Google Assistant has acquired a new AI feature that can detect what you're humming and (as the game show used to say) name that tune. It's perfect for my first YouTube review. OK, here goes…

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As far as I'm concerned, the final score was Assistant 0 : 1 Dabbsy. And I put myself though sheer hell to nail that review.

I care a lot about everything I do. Details matter when you’re rocking empathy. For example, when the world’s financial institutions stole all our money in 2007-8 and sent us into recession, I volunteered to restart the UK economy single-handedly by overspending on Amazon that Christmas. As I say, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it. And it worked: we came out of recession, didn’t we? And Bezos became a billionaire, right?

This year we’ve fallen back again so more drastic measures will be necessary. However, this time I will not be shopping at Amazon. Yeah yeah, so the company has questionable business and accounting ethics, but paying their warehouse staff like shit and treating them the same isn't what's troubling me. No, I’m worried about data security. I know this because I was on Amazon the other day and an unsolicited email message landed in my inbox at that very moment asking "Alistair, are you worried about your data security?" and I thought to myself "I am now."

Naturally I am not alone in this. A recent survey by a payment solutions company indicated that 74 per cent of consumers would not buy their Christmas junk from an online shop if it "had been subject to a breach or hack in the last 12 months."

I can just picture Christmas shoppers trawling through their past year’s subscription copies of Minutes from IEEE Data Breach Incident Report to see if Toyz-R-Arse is mentioned before clicking the Pay Now button for that exclusive Lego box unboxing box kit, all boxed in extra boxes.

If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic is encouraging more people than ever to shop online. All that’s changed is that they’ll be fretting a bit more. Ultimately, brand wins over; another slug from the spare bottle that came with the 3-for-2 Bailey’s offer down at the supermarket and they’ll just return to buying everything from the usual dodgy and tax-dodging online outfits based in Ireland.

Not me, oh no. I plan to do all my shopping in person, in a shop, and generally bossing COVID like an orange-painted fat politician with small hands and pre-senile dementia. It’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it, right?

Except… it turns out shopkeepers are also getting wary about security. Leading up to Christmas last year, a security guard at the entrance of a shopping centre would ask to check my bags and then wave me on. This year, the security guard stands well back, shouts across the hall that you must clean your hands, and nudges a bottle of anti-bac gel towards me by poking it with a long stick. The whole shoplifter-scaring act has gone out of the window (as has the shoplifter.)

Doing the job in its place is good old CCTV – which is going to be tricky if everyone abides by the rules and wears a facemask. Aha, maybe not! According to CCTV.co.uk, shops such as Whiteleys Garden Centre are already installing facemask-detecting cameras.

You read that right: not face-detecting but facemask-detecting. If it detects you aren’t wearing your mask, the shop’s automated door won’t let you in. In keeping with the daily sacrifice of personal privacy at the altar of social shaming that marks our era, a big display unit at the entrance will also flash up a shouty message: "No Mask Detected!"

Assuming the system works [shrugs, rolls eyes] it should keep shop staff safer, which is a good thing. It might also ruin the fun for meddlesome ratbags trying to catch other shoppers out for letting their facemasks slip while in the dibbles and hoes aisle. Even better. It sounds like a win-win.

For me, Christmas shopping begins the morning after Amazon Prime Day, so I’ve already written that list and checked it twice. Please think of me as I risk life and limb to purchase those book tokens and acquire enough chocolate oranges to equip an international pétanque tournament, thereby saving the high street from destitution by spending the millions I expect to earn from my imminent YouTube fame.

Didn’t I say I care a lot? Hell, it’s a dirty job but someone’s got to do it.

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Alistair Dabbs
Alistair Dabbs is a freelance technology tart, juggling tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He would like to point out that he does not frequent garden centres, nor is he convinced that such places are "magical" at Christmas. A garden centre with some tinsel and a big roll of cotton wool do not, for him, constitute the raw elements for conjuring otherworldly apparitions from the mystical realm. For that, you need at least the 3-for-2 deal on Baileys. @alidabbs

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