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January, 2018:

Internet of toilets

Every year, around this time, top companies in consumer electronics goods come together for the dazzling CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and unveil some of the most spectacular goods — this is why science and technology is great — that the world has basically no need for.

As this column’s well-known USP is uselessness, the CES event is always followed with keen interest by this columnist. And this year’s event, which  kicked off a few days ago, has already come up with a consumer product that we believe could not have been thought up by ordinary technicians and scientists, but would have surely needed technicians and scientists on high quality cocaine. The product is: A refrigerator. Okay, not an ordinary refrigerator but one that can book a cab for you (drum roll).

Accept it, this surely has happened to you: You woke up in the middle of night, and feeling thirsty, walked up to the refrigerator to pick a water bottle, and sighed, “hah! It does the cooling and preserving part pretty nice. But if only my refrigerator knows how to fly a helicopter or at the least book a cab for me, it would be so nice”.

You probably sighed pretty audibly, for they have gone ahead and made a refrigerator which you can ask to book a cab for you. This is said to be part of the features that come with “internet-connected refrigerators”.

It is a serious kink among the consumer goods community to connect everything, including bathroom faucets, to the internet. Not long ago, and this product is available in the market now, we had ACs that were wifi-enabled. What do the wifi-enabled ACs do? Do they, after a thorough search of Google, throw up the best quality of cool air? Not really. Wifi-enabled ACs, we are told, “allow you to operate your ACs from anywhere”. The government, if it has any sense, should identify the gents who like to operate their ACs from outside and put their pics in prominent public spots so that the rest of us can stay vigilant and keep off from these people.

Anyway, getting back to the refrigerator, a report from the event breathlessly said, “people can now talk to the ‘Family Hub 3.0’ refrigerator from their kitchen can ask it to help plan meals, keep track of whether their produce is still fresh, and control other home devices and even arrange for a cab ride.”

Jee whiz! A refrigerator that insistently tells you what is in stock in the house and what needs to be bought for meals. Well, that isn’t a refrigerator. That sounds a lot like my wife.

What made the company think up such a fridge? A company executive was quoted as saying “the fridge makes sense as a smart-home hub because people spend so much time near it”. Yeah, so true! We spend so much time with refrigerators that some of us even have carnal relationship with it.

But appliances that we can talk to is apparently the future, as another product that was unveiled at the CES event also showed: Voice-controlled bathroom and toilet fixtures.

Seriously. A German company, an iconic brand when it comes to bathroom stuff, showcased a range of bathroom and plumbing fixtures that can be activated with the help of voice assistants (like Alexa, Siri).

The company has also come up with a comprehensive — why not? — app, using which you can automate all manner of bathroom tasks.

The thing is you no longer need to painstakingly flush the commode after your daily dump. All you need to do is just say, “flush” and the voice-assistant will take your command and pass it on to the internet-connected, app-enabled faucet which will immediately convey back the message that the internet line is down for the last three days and you better clean the stuff yourself or else the entire neighbourhood will stink like hell. Or at least that is what I think will happen if the product was fitted in my bathroom because half the time my home internet is down with some fault or the other.

The new-age toilet also promises “personalized cleansing” too and in the event of constipation, it will pop Isabgol straight into your mouth. Okay, the last one is not happening now. But you can bet that we will be getting there soon.

But I am already worried for the future, for I don’t want to be talking to my appliances, constantly ordering it do this or that. I want my appliances to be not smart. I want them to be dumb like the representatives we send to the Assembly. Perhaps we should all make representations to the consumer appliance companies saying a big ‘No’ to smart goods. We should act quickly. Because while we are reading this, our wifi-enabled ACs may already be sneakily sending in ‘Yes’.