What if everything in the future works like the automated public bathrooms of today?
The average state-of-the-art bathroom has:
- lights that turn on when you enter the room,
- toilets that flush when you stand up or walk away,
- taps that turn on when you place your hands under them,
- automated soap dispensers,
- sensor-powered air dryers or paper towel dispensers1
All these conveniences should allow for a visit to the restroom that requires not touching anything that another human has placed their germy bits on.2
Problem is, the technology doesn’t work reliably.
I’m sure you’ve been there. Toilets that flush while you are still sitting, spraying your exposed buttocks with heaven knows what. Taps that won’t turn on. Soap dispensers that make the noise but deliver no soap. Paper towel dispensers that don’t. Dryers with no air flow.
Makes me wonder which is the greater microbe-spreading evil: not washing my hands at all, washing with just water, or touching the exit door handle with wet hands.
Now that your toes are curled and you want to never go to a public bathroom again, let me share my real concern: this is how all automated systems will work in the future.
Consider the parallels that might be between the automated bathroom and soon to be available self-driving cars, or AI’s that run your house .
|Current Automated bathroom||Dependability and usefulness||Self-driving car||AI home control system|
|Lights turn on automatically when someone enters the room||pretty much works all the time, so far so good, system is useful||car is there when you call it, opens the door and greets you by name||responds to your voice, plays Nickelback on command|
|toilet flushes automatically when you walk away from it, but sometimes when you are still there||a bit overzealous but doing its job||car takes you to desire destination, but makes a ton of suggestions for stops along the way, especially when you are in a hurry||system opens and closes door locks based on specified permissions but refuses to let your youngest child in when hair is freshly dyed pink|
|taps turn on when you place your hands under them, most of the time, or sometimes after several thrusts in various directions||basic functionality but needs work||car usually stays on road, occasionally drifts towards other lane, then neck-wrenchingly corrects as it does in the proximity of a squirrel, person with cane, or baby stroller||has mastered turning on lights in occupied rooms but music plays in the basement, garage or attic even when no one is there, which is creepy|
|soap dispenser either dispenses soap or makes a pit of the belly grinding noise trying||good effort, failing because of need for a third party to refill the dispenser||car runs out of fuel sometimes because fuel gauge is linked to commodities markets and car is trying to arbitrage prices via beta version app||grocery orders often don’t include items that begin with b (bananas, barbecue chips and basa fish) because … ?|
|hand drying gambit of questionably functioning towel dispenser and hot air blower||need to figure out which is the best approach and make it work||car finds quickest route about half the time, still ends up sitting in traffic at rush hour (you begin to suspect it’s because it enjoys Bluetoothing with other cars)||room temperature is controlled half the time, the other half you have to ask to turn it up, then down, then up, then specify a temperature 2 degrees warmer than you really want|
|no automated toilet paper dispenser||why not?||refuses to change radio stations, suggests stopping at dance clubs as an alternative||will not interact with the dishwasher, claims it doesn’t understand what a dishwasher is|
Is the public restroom a metaphor for the coming automated world we’ll live in? I hope artificial intelligence is going to be smarter. Sensors will be more sensitive and selective. There’s more sense to automation.
I’m looking forward to the day when we engineer a body lotion that converts all biological waste to molecules that are passed as odourless gases through the skin, thereby making bathrooms obsolete. Now that would be progress.
1I’ve noticed that many bathrooms are now equipped with both paper-towels and hot air blowers, leading me to believe that the experts are divided on which is the best way to dry your hands to avoid the spread of the plague or similar diseases, or which is environmentally preferable, or more user friendly, or all of these. Hence, public restrooms are equipped with both.
2One thing lacking in the automated chamber is the toilet paper dispenser. Why hasn’t anyone created a thing that dispenses 3.0 sheets of paper at the wave of a hand? I’ve been to many a stall where I’ve dug around to get the roll started, then yanked when I had a sufficient supply, only to have paper trail onto the floor. That’s not somewhere I want to go, so I tear off three feet and start again. Or the paper tatters in my hand, leaving a dusting of tp fragments on the floor. What a waste. And it looks unsanitary, even if it probably isn’t.