I was in the bathroom recently and was struck by how old everything is.
I mean, we’re in 2023 and we sit on toilets not much different from what our great-grandparents sat on. In effect, we’re one step up from an outhouse.
The more I thought of it, the more unacceptable this situation became. How could it be that toilet tech hasn’t advanced? Is it another victim of the “atoms versus bits” bias that Peter Thiel talks about, or is it just that we’re too embarrassed and lazy to make the toilet something…more.
I asked ChatGPT how it would improve the situation.
ChatGPT: The intersection of AI and restroom use might seem like an unusual topic at first glance, but there are indeed some ways in which AI could aid and improve the experience. Here are some potential applications:
Health Monitoring: AI can analyze stool samples in real-time to detect irregularities, monitor gut health, or identify early signs of gastrointestinal diseases.
Hygiene Enhancement: Smart toilets can self-clean and inform users about hygiene levels, optimizing cleaning cycles based on usage.
Smart Toilet Paper Dispensers: Analyze and dispense the exact amount of paper needed, reducing waste. Alert maintenance or cleaning staff when supplies are running low. [What is the “exact amount of paper needed?” Cause, uh, I need a lot sometimes. I’m going to have to ask GPT at some later time.]
Occupancy Detection: In public restrooms, AI-driven sensors can detect occupancy and display it externally, minimizing the awkwardness of trying an occupied stall door. This can also help in cleaning and maintenance as the restrooms can be serviced when they are least busy.
Odor Detection and Control: AI-powered sensors can detect and neutralize bad odors automatically, ensuring a pleasant restroom experience.
Water Conservation: AI can analyze usage patterns and adjust the flush volume accordingly, conserving water.
Smart Lighting: Lights can be adjusted automatically based on occupancy, ensuring that energy is not wasted when the restroom is unoccupied.
Personalized Experience: In a home setting, AI-driven restrooms could adjust settings based on the identified user (e.g., seat warmth, preferred lighting, music or sound preferences).
Guidance and Assistance for Children & Elders: AI could offer guidance for children learning to use the toilet, or provide assistance to elderly individuals or those with mobility challenges (e.g., automatic seat lifting, voice-guided assistance).
Scheduling and Timing: In a public setting or a workplace, AI could help schedule restroom breaks to minimize crowding and wait times. It could also remind individuals to take breaks if they’ve been working for long periods, promoting better health.
Feedback and Improvements: AI-powered systems in public restrooms could collect feedback from users about their experiences, using it to recommend improvements in design, maintenance, or amenities.
Emergency Alerts: AI can detect unusual behavior or accidents in restrooms (like someone falling) and alert the necessary personnel or even call emergency services.
As with any AI-driven applications in personal spaces, it’s crucial to maintain user privacy, avoid unnecessary data collection, and ensure users are aware of and comfortable with how their data is being used.
BN: Yasssss. This is what I need. The future! I’m glad you see things my way, ChatGPT. This situation is unacceptable. What are the possible utopian and dystopian worlds with all of this new toilet technology? Please write up to two paragraphs for each of only 10 lines a paragraph. [It helps if you read these as if you’re the movie-trailer guy].
In a restroom-technology utopia, everyone has access to smart restrooms that prioritize health, hygiene, and convenience. AI-powered toilets seamlessly monitor health metrics, providing users with early warnings of potential health issues. Public restrooms automatically adjust lighting, scent, and ambiance based on individual user preferences, ensuring a comfortable and pleasant experience. Beyond mere functionality, these restrooms promote relaxation and offer educational or entertainment options, making restroom visits a rejuvenating micro-break. Water and resource usage is optimized, contributing to a sustainable and eco-friendly world.
The interconnectedness of these restrooms also ensures that public facilities are always clean, as AI algorithms predict usage patterns and schedule cleanings accordingly. Privacy is paramount; data is anonymized and never misused, creating a balance between personalization and confidentiality. Every trip to the restroom, be it in public or private spaces, becomes an epitome of comfort, health-monitoring, and eco-consciousness.
In a world where restroom technology goes awry, restrooms become zones of surveillance and data exploitation. Instead of health and comfort, the primary purpose becomes data extraction. Companies harness intimate biological data without clear consent, selling insights to third parties like insurance companies, which might adjust premiums based on detected health risks. Restroom advertisements are invasive, bombarding users with targeted ads based on their most private moments.
Privacy erosion is rampant. Public restrooms, instead of being havens of relaxation, become stress zones where individuals fear their every move is analyzed and judged. Hackers find ways to infiltrate these systems, leading to breaches of deeply personal data. The disparity between those who can afford state-of-the-art private smart restrooms and those who can’t creates further societal divides. The restroom, once a simple space, becomes a complex web of privacy concerns, class struggles, and data commodification.
BN: Sexy. So which of these do you estimate is more likely? Please give as a percentage.
Predicting the exact trajectory of future technological and societal trends with precise percentages is inherently challenging, as it depends on a multitude of variables including policy decisions, technological advances, societal values, and unforeseen global events. However, I can provide a general perspective:
Given the current direction of technological development and increasing awareness of privacy issues:
Utopian Scenario: While the positive aspects of technology enhancing restroom experiences are highly likely (e.g., health monitoring, personalized experiences, and ecological optimizations), the full realization of a utopia where everything works seamlessly for everyone’s benefit is harder to achieve due to technological disparities, varied implementation standards, and possible economic constraints. Let’s estimate a 40% chance of closely realizing this scenario.
Dystopian Scenario: The concerns of data privacy, surveillance, and commercial exploitation are very real in many current technology applications. We’ve already seen debates around data usage and privacy with smart devices in our homes. Without proper regulations and standards, there’s a risk of veering towards a dystopian outcome. However, a full-blown dystopia where restrooms become zones of surveillance and significant societal distress seems extreme. Assigning a likelihood, we might consider a 30% chance of closely realizing this scenario.
The remaining 30% lies in a middle ground—a world where we enjoy some of the benefits of smart restroom technology, face some challenges, and continuously work to find a balance between the two.
It’s essential to recognize that these percentages are speculative and based on the state of affairs as of my last training cut-off in September 2021. The actual future will be shaped by a combination of technological advancements, regulatory decisions, public discourse, and unforeseen events.
BN: Mmmmm…less sexy.
And at learning that we face a 60% chance of being surveilled while pooping in the near future, I decided my work there was done. And I closed my phone recording everything I was doing, got up, and left.
What do you think is the likelihood of these scenarios? Feel free to leave in the comments or create your own.