For the George Brown College Playwriting course, we were asked to write several short monologues. These three monologues are short dialogues of myself discussing the CARES system for aging missing children by computer.
CARES (Computer Assisted Recovery Enhancement System), a computer system for aging missing children announced on July 4, 1986, was a joint project between the Metropolitan Toronto Police and IBM Canada Lab. CARES was the first computer-based child-aging system in the world. View CARES details and press coverage
1. Monologue – CARES
Picture it, 1986. Jim Clark was head of the Youth Bureau of the Metro Toronto Police, the organization that finds missing kids. The challenge was finding kids that had gone missing for years. His artist wife Betté was working with a doctor at Sick Kids Hospital learning how kids age.
The medical reason to study child aging was the lack of seat belt use. When a child is in a car accident and goes through the windshield, the side of the face that is crushed will not grow and age. So, you don’t rebuild the child’s face, you build their predicted adult face.
The first case was Shawn, an Alberta boy who was 8 when he went missing 4 years before. Child aging is done two years at a time, so the task was broken in taking Shawn from 8 to 10 then 10 to 12. The results were amazing, but each 2-year aging took Betté 20 person-hours of work.
Jim approached IBM Canada R&D asking if a computer could be programmed to do it.
In 1986, the high-end personal computer was the IBM PC AT with a 6 MHz 286 processor, 4 meg of memory, a 30-meg hard disk and a display that could not show a photo. Today a personal computer, scanner and Photoshop are used, but in 1986 there were no scanners, photo printers or Photoshop software. Footnote, Photoshop was released in 1990.
I took on the challenge. It Has Never Been Done. That is the tag line of projects like this.
Betté and I went through the steps. One step is to elongate the skull. People say a child’s nose gets longer, but actually the skull grows along a line encircling the skull from the mid-nose back.
Even today, doing a fully automated aging is beyond the state of the art. Suppose we built a photo editor to reduce the artist’s time?
We worked with a Quebec company named Matrox. They made a photo capable display adapter and a colour video frame-grabber. We needed a split-colour RGB video signal so an engineering grade video camera was purchased along with the TV studio interface for RGB output.
The PC operating system was DOS so it could only address 640K memory. Windows didn’t exist yet, so we had to write software to provide virtual memory, capture, edit, display and print images. We bought an experimental video Mitsubishi printer from Japan. The English technical documentation was a riot. Clearly someone sat with a Japanese-to-English dictionary. It talked about “bites” b-i-t-e-s of memory. I figured out the printer interface. The funny part was that I became known as the only English-speaking person who knew how to talk to the printer. Mitsubishi kept referring North American customers to me for help.
We ran the Shawn aging. Manually it took 20 hours for a 2-year aging. On CARES, it took 30 minutes to do the same thing.
On July 4, 1986, the Metro Toronto Police held a press conference to introduce CARES (Computer Assisted Recovery Enhancement System). Talk about bad timing. The Ontario doctors decided to end their strike on the same day. We were the lead story on two national networks and second on the other two networks. Damn doctors.
2. Monologue – That’s My Photo
My daily work at IBM R&D revolved around expanding image editing capabilities. CARES, the system for aging missing kids, had been announced on July 4, 1986. CARES was built to age missing kids but the photo editing and enhancing ability had other uses. Chats about cases with Metro Police were not unusual. The call was from a detective I had not interacted with before.
He had a bank surveillance video tape. The camera had been knocked and was aiming out the front window instead of in the room it was supposed to cover. The problem was that the camera was not set up for that lighting, so the video was overexposed. Someone was walking past the window, and the police needed details. Could I enhance the video? Sure, send it over.
The CARES system used a commercial video camera with TV studio controls. We had several ways to process the video.
About 15 minutes later, I got a call from IBM Lab East Entrance security that a policeman was asking for me. “I’ll be right up.”
As I walked the hall, the head of security practically tackled me. “What the hell is going on?” he barked.
I told him about the call. “It’s probably the video tape.”
“OK, but can you ask him to not use the siren and lights next time? There are 1,200 people standing at windows wondering what’s happening.”
I got the tape and went to my lab. The image was almost white, but a few hours of trial and error, and we had a pretty solid image of a girl walking past.
Using our 2,400 baud modem, I transmitted the image to the CARES system at the Police station. In a blazing 22 minutes, the image was there.
I went back to work and forgot about it. I never asked for details, as the agreement between IBM and the Police was that CARES was never to be referenced publicly except for the missing kids. IBM’s concern was that CARES could be considered too much like the scenario in the novel “1984.” Much of my work was enhancing drug deal and bank robbery photos, so the police didn’t want my involvement made public. They feared finding me in the trunk of a car in Lake Ontario with a bullet in my brain.
A week later, I got up in the morning and opened the Toronto Star newspaper. There was my photo on the front page with the story.
Alison Parrott seen walking by a bank, on the way to be murdered.
3. Monologue – Do Bank’s Have X-Ray Cameras Now?
In the 1980’s bank surveillance video cameras were notoriously bad. They had to be manually adjusted and carefully calibrated, steps that were seldom done.
A robber cut the sleeve off a white sweatshirt, cut out holes for his eyes and mouth. Then he put it on to rob a bank at gunpoint.
The bank video was pulled, and the police had a surprisingly good photo, but of course, the guy’s face was camouflaged by the sleeve. The tape was forwarded to the CARES department of Metro Toronto Police to see if we had any ideas. CARES was built to age missing kids but the photo editing and enhancing ability had other uses.
We enhanced the photo and had a superb likeness of the robber. In B&W the sweatshirt sleeve texture looked like skin with tonal details. Betté, the police artist who worked with me on image enhancement, unsquashed the nose. She studied the ears for shape and size. Then she added generic ears that matched. She examined the fabric outlines and added hair, then finished it off with a generic mouth.
The resulting picture was shown to the detective. He had not seen the process and replied, “Oh, that’s Fred … hey, this crime matches his MO.”
Fred was pulled in for questioning. He, of course, denied the whole thing. When shown the original picture of him with the sleeve on he replied, “That could be anyone.”
Next, he was shown the CARES-altered image.
“How the hell did you get that picture of me robbing the bank? Are they using X-ray cameras now? This isn’t fair. Don’t you have to post that the bank has X-ray cameras?”
The moral of the story is don’t use a clean white sweatshirt sleeve as a mask.