The Toilenator

Before I forget; they’ve posted my bio over on the IAPP website, so I guess it’s official: I’m one of three (and by far the least qualified) keynote speakers at the International Association of Privacy Professionals’s Canadian symposium next month. Apparently one of the organizers was taken by my panopticon rant of a few weeks back, and invited me to put my mouth where the money is. “You’ve got a chance to talk to the regulators who enforce privacy law and the executives as big companies who make decisions about what to do with your data,” he told me.  “What do you want to say to them?”

No it's just on the street where you live.

No it’s just on the street where you live.

I’m not entirely sure. I suspect that death threats wouldn’t be anything new to such folks, and I’m pretty sure they’d be actionable as well. So I thought I might tell them something about the biological underpinnings of the mammalian surveillance response. Still, if any of you have anything you’d like to say to such professionals, I’m willing to consider requests.

That assumes, of course, that I make it back from Kawasaki in one piece. So far I have experienced two toilets since being hauled into Secondary, photographed, and fingerprinted upon my arrival. One was situated in a private residence and is a model of efficiency and conservation: it refills post-flush via a spigot emptying into a sink situated on top of the tank itself, and which drains thereinto; you wash your hands (assuming you’re given to that kind of thing) in the very stream that replenishes the device.

The other model lurks in my hotel room, and is somewhat less nonthreatening. It is the first toilet I have ever encountered with a sapience-class AI. It boots itself up with the sound of pistons and hydraulics when you sit. It autofills its own bowl as some kind of function of the curvature of your butt, which I think it assesses by means of low-intensity lasers arrayed around the rim. The seat itself is electrically heated; using it is like taking a dump while sitting on a waffle iron.

None of these controls flushes the toilet. I don't think there is a control to flush the toilet. I think the toilet decides for itself when to flush.

None of these controls flushes the toilet. I don’t think there is a control to flush the toilet. I don’t even think it has an “off” switch.  I think the toilet decides for itself when to flush.

I remain wasted, even now, from thirteen hours of jetlag.  And yet I spent most of last night propped up unsleeping in bed, cradling the magnum hair-dryer that came with the room, keeping it aimed at that dark ominous rectangle leading into the bathroom. I swear I could hear the thing breathing in there.

Also the seats in their airport commuter train pirouette en masse at each terminus, twirling majestically in place to face whichever direction is forward on any given leg of the trip. The elevators invite you to enjoy your trip through their doors.

And the SF part of this trip hasn’t even started yet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday April 10 2014at 10:04 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

25 Responses to “The Toilenator”

  1. How long are you here for? Any chance you can get up to Tokyo? I recall promising you a beer if you ever made it out here. About the toilets: Some play music to mask the sound of your tinkling and/or dumpage.

  2. You are living in the future we’ve dreamed of. Those of us who dream of toilets, that is. Enjoy!

  3. Peter!!! I meant to send you this link before you left for Japan!!
    YOU GOTTA GO HERE!!!!

    http://www.kaiju-sakaba.com/

    ” Kawasaki restaurant-bar themed on the space monsters the hero battled in the sci-fi TV series”

    Please go.. for your own sake :)

  4. The first one of those that I ever saw had icons for “bidet” and “spray” that made it look even more as if the user was balancing on a whale spout. I actually wondered if it was some kind of international warning symbol for “Danger: large cetaceans may surface in your toilet bowl and surprise you during an unguarded moment”.

    Have you encountered the public ones that play little snatches of recorded sound — babbling streams or chirping birds – to cover up any noises that you may make as you do your business? I find it more than a little disconcerting to be suddenly immersed in woodland sound effects the moment my ass touches the (disconcertingly warm) seat, but the Japanese seem to like it that way.

  5. tsintokyo:
    How long are you here for? Any chance you can get up to Tokyo? I recall promising you a beer if you ever made it out here.

    So you did. Let’s take this up off-list.

  6. Omg!!
    You were going to Japan??! And you didn’t frakking SAY anything?
    Gah.
    Man. I want a complete reconnaissance dump. It’s been on my list for a while…

  7. If civilization is measured by the state of the art in water closets, the Japanese agree by far so advanced that the rest of us are mere barbarians at best.

    By the time the rest of the world is up to the current Japanese standard, who knows what the Japanese will take a dump in. I suspect whatever it is will follow you around just in case there’s need, constantly apologizing for not being a better model.

  8. visualioner.files.wordpress.com/2013/02/t1.jpg

    For every artifact from after the toilet singularity, there are several hundred of these. It’s Gibson’s law of distributed futures for sanitation.

    Have fun in Japan, Mr Watts, if I was a little closer I’d be there with bells on.

  9. Hello, Peter.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzAuXuxD0Oo

    Yeah, that’s it.

  10. That privacy talk sounds like quite an opportunity. I’m intrigued by where you’re likely to take the “biological underpinnings of the mammalian surveillance response.” As it happens, our group does some research on surveillance issue. We look at why belief in supernatural agency might have evolved as a result of the fitness-enhancing effects of believing we’re being morally monitored by omniscient, invisible agents. The whole approach makes some interesting predictions about unexpected areas of culture–take comic-book characters, for instance (preprint here)

    Assuming you don’t have them already, some landmark papers in the field are Bering and Johnson (2005), Bering (2006) and Atkinson and Bourratt (2011). (The last is pay-walled; can send on if needed.)

  11. I always spent my half an hour to read this web site’s content everyday along with a cup of
    coffee.

  12. Amusingly, your keynotes link collects collect data. It ends in:

    ?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=04-09-2014&utm_campaign=CS14

  13. Well, as far as “talk to them regulators” goes…

    Be polite, be efficient… no, seriously, it’s important not to wound their precious little feelings, so that they can parse your message in a semi-rational manner.

    And yes, basics of mammalian surveillance response would be a good topic (you might get to mention how “alpha males” don’t really happen in wolves outside captivity, that sure is gonna send their heads for a spin).

    But you might just go with a slightly prettied-up, “standardized and scientificized” version of your panopticon rant (especially since I’m pretty sure none of them would have any familiarity with your blog).

    P.S.:
    One more suggestion (not as a separate topic, but mayhaps as food for thought and something that can be weaved into any privacy-related talk):
    Even if we imagine an idealized Brin-style “transparent society” (one where “powers that be” don’t try to poke you in the eye for trying to scrutinize them), it is far from the ideal its proponents purport it to be, since it strongly favors those with most analytical capability (most of the time, “transparency” will not yield any useful information about anything, so you would need to sift through immense amounts of info to find something really “tasty”, irrespective of who you are and what your goals are).
    And since analytical capability is expensive, such society favors the enormously rich (mostly corporations and governments) and oppresses the average person (and even most millionaires, since you need to be a billionaire to even compare to a decent corporation)

    P.P.S.:
    Man, I missed reading this blog so much.

  14. Before I zoomed in enough, I thought the BIDET button said EJECT. Which would have been crazy and yet somehow fitting.

    Also, what AngusM said re whale-powered ass-scrubbing.

    Re surveillance, presuming people guilty of something is a message that mass surveillance sends. Because it makes some people money doesn’t mean it’s well spent. In fact, it erodes public trust and confidence. Maybe connect poor economy to it. The connection is there some place besides obvious killing and simultaneous artificial propping up of cloud, encryption, and other surveillance tools first, services second tech. Maybe people are afraid to buy because Big Bro is watching, killing consumer confidence. What else is the message? “Something horrible must be on horizon or why else would govt/corps be doing this?,” think the sheep. Not good for anyone but the NATSEC crowd who are milking fear for profits, budgets, expansion of powers. It feels like a gang of bullies have taken over wherever one goes. Therefore, one doesn’t want to go, spend. People feel less safe, and likely are, as a result of this vicious cycle.

    Additional advice if goal is to have rational acceptance of your points: don’t call their customers sheep. Also, maybe skip fear having mammaries.

  15. Further to the “watching the watchers” argument:

    http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2014/04/lapd-officers-monkey-wrenched-cop-monitoring-gear-in-patrol-cars/

    via Bruce Schneier (of course)

  16. At least the buttons were in English and with pictograms. My hotel room in Seoul had a similar toilet but the buttons only had Korean script.

  17. @ Lodore

    What is the formal definition of a “kin signalling proxy” ? Ye olde intertubes aren’t helping me here
    https://www.google.com/search?q=Kin+signaling+Proxy&ie=utf-8

    As to the whole “Darwinean aesthetics” angle, I find it very, very doubtful.

    I’ll spare you a traditional anti-evopsych rant (cause I find your nickname cuddly and adorable), but there are certain peculiar hypothetical consequences to your hypothesis that, in my humble opinion, should be investigated before one could make such far-reaching claims with any degree of certainity.

    First, if there is an evolved component to superhero aesthetics (or to religious belief in an ethically competent deity, since that seems to be a hypothesis you also favor) , then there should be genetic sequences associated with these mental traits (one should be able to both track inheritance patterns of these mental peculiarities and demonstrate association with particular genes, though personally I would not limit investigation to “classical genome” and would also consider mitochondrial shenanigans ;) )

    Second, there should be inheritable variation to these mental traits that can be traced to particular genetic variants (genealogical lines with marked favor of nonconventional superheroes, or whatever)

    And finally, having understanding of what gene combinations are responsible for various expressions of these mental traits (be that “superhero comic hero preferences” or “peculiarities of religious beliefs”) we should be able to predict how genetic drift would affect those in various human populations and check that against available historical and culturological data about “societies” that have, or at least used to have, little genetic interaction with other “societies”

  18. @ O3: Your handle speaks to my sense of sequence, proportion and balance, so I shall try to exhibit all in my reply.

    “What is the formal definition of a “kin signalling proxy” ?”

    A kin-signalling proxy is any object, representation or behaviour that places a stranger in the same relationship to you as a blood relative. This might be something like a particular way of dressing (say, military uniforms) that announce a group of soldiers as the proverbial band of brothers. Equally, the secret Masonic handshake (does this actually exist?) might identify a fraternal confederate. Finally, think of Stalin’s or Mussolini’s ‘father of the nation’ schthick: here, the emphasis falls on a paternal surrogate. In all cases, the object is to trigger pro-kin responses beyond the kin netwok, and thereby bring about prosocial behaviours.

    “As to the whole “Darwinean aesthetics” angle, I find it very, very doubtful.”

    Fair enough, though without an argument it’s hard to know what exactly you don’t like. If, as your other comments suggest, you understand ‘Darwinian aesthetics’ to be the idea that there’s a direct causal link between the genome and the culturally mediated representations, then you’re tilting at a position that no one actually holds.

    First, if there is an evolved component to superhero aesthetics (or to religious belief in an ethically competent deity, since that seems to be a hypothesis you also favor) , then there should be genetic sequences associated with these mental traits (one should be able to both track inheritance patterns of these mental peculiarities and demonstrate association with particular genes, though personally I would not limit investigation to “classical genome” and would also consider mitochondrial shenanigans ;) )

    Can’t say I agree with this. A dog has a hardwired propensity to mark it’s territory by pissing on vertically salient objects; this doesn’t mean that its genome needs to encode what a lamppost looks like. Equally, all one needs to arrive at the god/supehero concept is an innate disposition towards prosociality and an ability to engage in counterfactual reasoning. So long as the number of inferential steps is limited (in particular, one is able to use folk ontological categories), it is possible to reliably predict the emergence of morally concerned, counterfactual beings.

    And finally, having understanding of what gene combinations are responsible for various expressions of these mental traits (be that “superhero comic hero preferences” or “peculiarities of religious beliefs”) we should be able to predict how genetic drift would affect those in various human populations and check that against available historical and culturological data about “societies” that have, or at least used to have, little genetic interaction with other “societies.”

    I agree with this point, minus the specific linking of superheroes to actual genes. Schroeder, McElreath and Nettle (2013) offer some really interesting data suggesting that variations in the genes responsible for seratonin transport can cause higher levels of prosocial sentiment––generally, by way of subjects being more punishment averse. Given that these variations are geographically distributed (with more punishment averse populations in east Asia), it is possible that these populations will evince a greater cultural preoccupation with punitive, superhero-like figures. So yeah, this might be worth following up on.

  19. Elevator doors made by Sirius Cybernetics?

  20. Long time reader, never ever poster. Wasn’t sure where else to mention but beyond the rift is the kindle sci fi book deal of the day in us and canada at least.

  21. Nancy C: YOU GOTTA GO HERE!!!!

    ” Kawasaki restaurant-bar themed on the space monsters the hero battled in the sci-fi TV series”

    I asked around about this. Was told they didn’t take reservations and there’d be a two-hour wait. And guys in rubber monster suits don’t whale on each other while you eat your appies. So, maybe next time; I’ll try and fit it in around a trip to the Studio Ghibli museum.

    There was another small awesome geek restaurant, though, we went to for the dead dog party. Pepperland. Details to follow.

    Jerico Mele: For every artifact from after the toilet singularity, there are several hundred of these.

    I’m thinking of writing a novel based on my experiences with just that one. I would call it “The Old Man and the Seat”.

  22. Lodore: As it happens, our group does some research on surveillance issue. We look at why belief in supernatural agency might have evolved as a result of the fitness-enhancing effects of believing we’re being morally monitored by omniscient, invisible agents.

    Yes, I’m definitely going there for at least part of the talk. Thanks so much for these links (haven’t followed ‘em yet but I will, I will). (Will also follow counterlinks and subsequent discussion in this thread. Real soon now. Thank you all.)

    Sheila:
    Amusingly, your keynotes link collects collect data. It ends in:

    ?utm_source=Twitter&utm_medium=04-09-2014&utm_campaign=CS14

    The organizer just phoned me as I was answering these comments. I pointed this out. He laughed, and seemed impressed, and assured me tey were just tracking what proportion of hits came from twitter.

    It is good to ave people like you bringing this stuff up. It makes me seem far sharper than I really am.

    Alex:
    Long time reader, never ever poster.Wasn’t sure where else to mention but beyond the rift is the kindle sci fi book deal of the day in us and canada at least.

    I noticed that. First time ever I’ve got a 2-digit sales ranking on Amazon (made it up to around 50-60). It’s also currently ranked the simultaneous #1 choice in “Anthologies & Literary Collections”, “Short Stories”, and “Single Author Short Story Collections”, although one might reasonably wonder why there’s a need for so many overlapping lists in the first place.

    More significantly, Gabriel García Márquez’s collection only weighs in at #5 on one of those lists, and he’s both a) vastly better-known and better-regarded than I, and b) newly dead, which should be boosting his sales significantly.

    Tempting though it might be to conclude that those ranks have something to do with relative merit, it probably has a lot more to do with the fact that Amazon’s giving my collection away for $1.99.

  23. funny that the label above ‘spray’ button actually says ‘butt’, if i remember well.
    also, maybe it’s smart enough to be reasoned with to get it to shutdown.

    hope you don’t have a janitor from 2029 paying you a visit, if so.

  24. Clearly Peter was murdered by a self aware Japanese Toilet and we never will get echopraxia.

  25. Seruko (Free Candy Inside Van),

    Oh, we will be getting Echopraxia no matter Peter’s fate.