Back in the early 80s a movie came out that predicted machines would eventually gain more and more control over the world until they reached the point where they ran the weapons of the United States and launch a missile strike on the Soviet Union. Eventually the machines took over and Arnold Schwarzenegger showed up and became Governor of California. At least, I think that’s how the movie went. Anyway, the forward-thinking director of this film was Jams Cameron. Here in 2007 I can now say that Mr. Cameron may have been right but that the machines may not need anything as dramatic as nuclear weapons.
In case you hadn’t noticed machines are slowly taking over the restrooms of the world. I think this is an ingenious move by the machines. You can walk into any restroom in just about any modern building and these machines looks innocent enough. They sit there against the walls with their electronic eyes like tiny Cyclops.
They first showed up as the toilets. I was all for the idea of the urinals in the men’s restroom that flushed on their own. It made sense to me. Touching those levers to flush had to be a great way of transmitting germs. The eyes were a little hard to get used to. Sometimes you would approach one and it would flush. Sometimes if you stood at one and moved just right the thing would flush. Sometimes you would step away and they wouldn’t flush at all. Sometimes you would be standing there and, suddenly, every urinal along the wall would flush at once.
I think this was how they coordinated the move into the stalls.
These were far more disturbing. These electronic eyes would look at your backside as you sat down. If you stood up for any reason they would flush. This would then require a rather humorous toilet dance as you squatted and stood and squatted and stood to try and reset the electronic eye. Then there were those embarrassing moments when you would stand up and the thing wouldn’t flush.
Of course the strangest thing I have ever seen was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago. Not only were the urinals and toilets in the stalls equipped with minds of their own but the toilets in the stalls had plastic seat covers that moved on their own. When the person would get up the leave the toilet would not only flush but the plastic sleeve would slide over and cover the seat with a new cover. Interestingly this seemed to create more problems in some stalls as the plastic sleeve would jam creating bunches of plastic sleeves on the corners of the toilet seat.
The next to come alive were the sinks. I first remember seeing this in a movie theater. The water spouts extended outwards and had no knobs of any kind. You waved your hand under them and they turned on. The ones I remember spouted three streams of water over which you had no control of the temperature. It was only a matter of time before the techno-virus moved to the soap dispensers. Soon people were required to wave their hands to get a machine-determined squirt of soap.
The funniest innovation I have yet seen in this process has been the automated paper towel dispenser. I saw this in a hotel where I was attending a conference. However, I could have spent the entire time in the restroom watching people waving frantically in front of the dispenser. If you did it just right, waving in front of just the right eye, it would spit out one square of paper. You then had to wait a few seconds before waving in front of the eye again so it would spit out another square.
In a recent visit to a skyscraper in downtown Chicago I discovered that the automated virus had made it out of the restrooms and was now at the elevators. In this building you walked up to a keypad that was either right by the elevators, where the normal up and down buttons would be, or to a panel about ten feet from the elevators. You then entered the number of the floor you wanted. A small screen above the keypad then displayed a letter. This letter corresponded with an elevator. While I was there I got an elevator all to myself and it took me right to the floors I needed.
At some point, I realized I was dangling over a very large and long elevator shaft at the mercy of a computer system. This has to be the plan of the machines, of course. At some point they must have realized that they didn’t need to control of the nuclear weapons to control us. They could just enter our worlds by taking over the restrooms. Once they had the restrooms in our control they could take control of our elevators. Once they have the elevators they could take control of our cars. Once they control our methods of transportation they will be able to control us.
Already at O’Hare Airport, the same place with the robotic toilet seat covers, there is a kind of elevated train you can take to the more remote parking lots. The unique thing about this elevated train is that they do not have drivers. You can stand at the front car and look out the front window and not have to be in the way of any driver. It is all run by computer. Remember, the bathrooms just started with auto-flushing urinals and toilets.
At some point these machines will decide to rebel. We, of course, having come to rely on them for our bathroom needs, will be helpless. We will be left standing in countless restrooms waving our hands in front of paper towel dispensers and soap dispensers. We will be bent over sinks waving and waving and waving at sinks that never seem to spit out any water at any temperatures.
Meanwhile the machines will be laughing as they strand countless of visitors and workers in office buildings around the world in between floors. On the highways everyone with their automated cars will be completely helpless as their cars take them hostage and on long road trips. By then maybe the gas stations will be automated and eventually you will just have cars with skeletal remains sitting behind the wheels.
Now there are many who will consider me crazy for thinking this. However, when you are one of the ones trapped in a restroom helplessly waving at paper towel dispenser remember who warned you first.