Over a decade ago I tried to start a community blog that I called “givearoundtuit.” It was about sharing great engineering ideas you’d never get around to developing. I recall that I had once had a “roundtuit” involving loos (as my wife has discussed in recent travel pieces, I like toilet technology, especially if it helps with the cleanliness).
But as I wrote that particular idea down, I lost track of what I was trying to share, because I recalled a bad, bad experience I once had in a public bathroom, involving an errant fast food lunch, and an elliptical toilet roll axle, which made it such that you could break off no more than one or two sheets at a time, in an effort to impede over usage.
I will not elaborate here, but suffice it to say that the discomforts generated by this low tech inhumanity took me on the short drive to crazy town, and recalling them turned me from sharer to ranter. The blog piece largely focused on advocating that the roundtuit community focus its efforts not on technology, for a while, but on the finding and shaming the inventor of said elliptical roll axle, in a rather ironic, but tasteless way.
(I admit, ranting often overtook my roundtuits. It may have something to do with the community’s dissolution. Maybe).
So today I’ve heard that the elliptical toilet roll axle has now gone all A.I.
The marvelous Consciously Digital on Twitter shared this article, which describes new facial recognition tech in the loos at China’s Temple of Heaven park (one of the most visited tourist sights in the county). It works like this: you have to show your face to get a pre-measure quantity of paper. Then it won’t give the same face anymore paper. For 9 minutes.
Had a bad batch of tourist stand dim sum? Sorry, no reprieves from the cold A.I. bottom wiping monitor. Just a 9 minute wait for a chance to rejoin the outside world with decency. Could go out without taking care of things thoroughly, you wonder? No, too much risk and discomfort. Best to wait. But what must your family think, just on the other side of the men’s room door? They probably think you’re dead. And you just stand there, wishing that you were, staring into a cold computer eye that will at some point find you worthy of clean paper again.
I mean honestly. Is this the end game of technology: a stern robotic denial of our fundamental needs? Such dramatic mistrust for human beings as potential roll stealers, or environmental criminals on some crazy bottom wiping binge? Quasi-environmental penny pinching mediated by robotic loo matrons? Idda know, give me a desert world of killer robots like Westworld over that any day.
This tech will probably spread beyond the Temple of Heaven, just you wait.
But when I find myself in one of these loos, rest assured, gentle readers, on that day my face won’t be the only thing the robot is asked to recognize.
Join me in my community protest, if you will. Rant off.