RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: Why does Amazon think I need silk stockings?

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: So, why does Amazon think I need a pair of silk stockings?

Garlic bread? It’s the future, according to Peter Kay’s nightclub owner Brian Potter in the fabulous TV comedy series Phoenix Nights.

Sorry to disappoint you, Brian. Not any more, it ain’t. Garlic bread might have been the future once, as Call Me Dave memorably taunted Tony Blair.

But Artificial Intelligence, aka AI, is the new kid on the block. And it’s spreading like Japanese knotweed.

AI has already extended its tentacles into virtually every aspect of our daily lives. It influences everything from what we buy and what we eat, to where we go and when, what books we read and what we watch on TV.

When you flash your Tesco Clubcard or pay for a pint with anything other than hard cash, AI is on your case. In the words of Peter Sarstedt, they know where you go to, my lovely, when you’re alone in your bed. They know the thoughts that surround you, because they can look inside your head.

AI has already extended its tentacles into virtually every aspect of our daily lives

The initials AI are shorthand for so-called ‘intelligent’ machines, computers actually, which are programmed to think like humans. They’ve even been taught to write newspaper columns, which might explain at least half of the mindless drivel which appears online and in the national Press these days.

For all you know, this is being written by a cyborg. Sadly, it isn’t. Otherwise I could have had an extra couple of hours in bed after spending Sunday supping Absolut Screwdrivers in the garden, courtesy of our Indian summer. (Good, this global boiling, isn’t it?)

Even if you’ve never heard of AI, it’s heard of you. Orwellian doesn’t even begin to cover it. The technology is behind every CCTV camera, every website you visit, every call centre you spend hours listening to Vivaldi with before giving up, every keystroke on your laptop. When you swipe your mobile phone on a dating app, it knows whether you dress to the right or the left.

READ MORE: The careers that face the highest risk of being replaced by AI – so will a robot take YOUR job? 

As Sting put it: Every breath you take, every move you make, we’ll be watching you.

Industry trains AI machines to perform mundane tasks and eliminate human error, allegedly. Banks, ditto. It was probably an algorithm which cancelled Nigel Farage at Coutts.

In the public sector, governments local and national use it to stress-test their policies and forecast outcomes and reaction, positive or otherwise.

Then if the reaction is overwhelmingly negative, as with Ulez, they ignore it and go ahead anyway — while relying on AI to manufacture a pack of lies explaining why it’s for your own good and enjoys widespread support.

AI then reads your number plate and issues your fine, as well as rejecting your appeal. Have a nice day.

Businesses employ it to predict your shopping habits and make you an offer you can’t refuse. When you turn on Netflix, AI is behind those ‘Because you watched’ recommendations.

When you use Amazon — and, be honest, we all do, especially after lockdown — you are handing over a treasure trove of personal information.

If you’ve ever — theoretically — ordered a jumbo tube of Preparation H online, Jeff Bezos knows immediately you’re having a bit of trouble with your Chalfonts. Five minutes later, you’ll get an email offering you a deal on an inflatable rubber ring.

Buy a set of spanners and, based on your browsing habits, Amazon will offer to sell you, er, another set of spanners.

RICHARD LITTLEJOHN: So, why does Amazon think I need a pair of silk stockings? (file image)

You may find this irritating, amusing, or indeed helpful, especially if you’re in the market for two identical sets of spanners. But, regardless, it’s the price of doing business in our modern, interconnected world.

Evangelists for AI maintain that the technology is becoming even more intelligent than humans. Soon everything will be done by machines.

In the case of Mick Lynch and his Merry Men, that can’t come quickly enough. Once the trains are fully automated and driven by robots, the strike weapon is redundant. Although by then, everyone will be probably working from the beach anyway, at least if they’re employed by your local council.

But what if AI isn’t the cure-all? What if, for instance, even Amazon’s ghosts in the machine get it horribly wrong?

Yesterday, I turned on my computer to read my usual avalanche of emails. Begging letters from Nigeria, offers of cut-price penis enlargement (how do they know?). There was the daily shopping list of recommendations from Amazon.

‘Hello richard littlejohn. We’ve picked a few styles we think you’d like based on your past purchases and preferences.’

First up was an ‘Alice’s Wonderland Fancy Large Dress Costume for Children’, priced at a very reasonable £13.99. Next, a ‘Smiffy’s Wonderland Princess Costume, age 7-9’ for £14.99.

Among the other female garments on the list was a pair of ‘Ladies Thigh High Hold Up Stockings with Coloured Satin Bows’ for £4.99 and a pair of black satin women’s evening gloves, like those worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

All this based on my Amazon activity history, apparently. So I checked my recent orders.

These included a new warming rack and cover for our barbecue (Indian summer for the use of); a jar of jelly beans, for when I’m laying off the Absolut for a couple of weeks; a 500g tin of Nescafe Gold Blend; a pack of batteries for the TV remote; 8kg of dishwasher salt; and the latest Alan Judd novel.

Somehow from this little lot, Amazon has worked out that what I want, what I really, really want is an Alice In Wonderland dressing up outfit, a pair of ladies’ stockings with coloured satin bows, and some evening gloves, similar to those worn by Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany’s.

If it can get inside my head, Peter Sarstedt-style, does AI know something even I don’t?

Because from where I’m sitting, Amazon’s algorithm has taken one look at my purchase history and concluded, like the psychic Clinton Baptiste in Phoenix Nights: ‘I’m getting the word . . . NONCE!’

When Ivor and Mad Frankie made the jailhouse rock

Here’s another one of those sentences I thought I’d never read, let alone write. From The Times, yesterday:

‘Prison cancels gay opera about Frankie Fraser and Ivor Novello.’

You couldn’t make it up.

A theatre group called Homo Promos (yes, really) had planned to stage an opera at Wormwood Scrubs imagining Novello, the gay singer/actor/composer, had shared a cell with Mad Frankie during his eight-week incarceration for misuse of petrol coupons in 1944.

(Novello, that is, not Fraser, who specialised in robbery, extortion and violence.)

Frankie’s proudest boast was that he spent 42 years behind bars without a single day’s remission. I can’t imagine him reacting well to the notion that he was cased up with a well-known theatrical homosexual. When I knew Frankie, who died in 2014, he was in a blissfully happy relationship with Marilyn Wisbey, daughter of Tommy Wisbey, one of the Great Train Robbers. (Her mum knitted the balaclavas.)

Mad Frankie Fraser

Ivor Novello

Peter Scott-Presland, the opera’s producer, said he had the backing of the prison’s ‘neurodiversity support manager’ to put on the show, but the plug was pulled at the last minute. (Neurodiversity support manager? We’re not talking Mr Mackay here, are we? How much is that costing us?)

The Prison Service was apparently worried the ‘Right-wing Press might get hold of it’. How’s that working out then?

The Right-wing Press may have been the least of his problems. Scott-Presland should have been worried about retribution from beyond the grave. There are still a few of Fraser’s former associates and admirers knocking around. I can remember appearing with Frankie, along with the former England goalkeeper Ray Clemence, on a football phone-in show hosted by my old LBC mate Tony Lockwood, who was a bit of a gangster groupie.

Somehow, I can’t see Novello — who in 1944 was the Scrubs’ answer to Lukewarm from Porridge — lasting long as Fraser’s cellmate. Frankie was an Arsenal fan. I asked him on air how he managed to follow the Gunners when he was in solitary most of the time. He said the trustees would listen to the results on the wireless and pass on the score. But they always told him Arsenal had lost.

Why was that?

‘Because they wanted to see me chin one of the screws.’

We’ll gather lilacs . . .

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