Who needs humans when there are modern miracle robots to help you gas-up, pee, and buy a bag of chips?
This morning I dropped by the all (sorta) new Quick Fuel station at 4589 Old Lamar Ave., which was celebrating its grand-reopening by handing out free barbecue sandwiches, brats, and dewy cans of ice cold soda pop in Quick Fuel koozies. It was a lovely affair, as gas station grand reopenings go, but to bend an old cliche toward the literal, I'm getting too old for this crap.
According to the lady handing out enormous piles of pulled shoulder with slaw and all the trimmings, the station was celebrating the arrival of a, "fancy" new sign, some "fancy" new gas pumps, and a "fancy" new, fully automated unisex bathroom that cleans itself top to bottom after every use. That seems a little excessive to me, but I'm not the one giving away barbecue sandwiches. (And it's probably welcome news throughout Memphis' OCD community). Did I mention that it's fancy? So fancy, in fact, I never would have figured out the multi-step gas pumping procedure without the aid of three humans hovering around me explaining how I didn't pay at the gas pump, but at a nearby card-reading station where one first enters the pump number, then dips a credit card. In order to get a receipt — with a 4-digit PIN required for anybody wanting to use the customers-only bathroom — one has to return to the pay station after pumping, re-enter the pump number and swipe his or her card a second time.
I haven't felt this lost since Apple stopped using Google-based maps on the iPhone.
The important question— and the one I'm sure you're all asking right now — is whether or not this mechanized convenience stop exists in accordance with Isaac Asimov's three laws of robotics.
The short answer: I'm not sure.
1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
I don't really have enough information to address the question at this time, and all answers certainly hinge upon one's definition of harm. Following contemporary political rhetoric, we can forego any notions of indirect economic injury and assume that these robots are only doing the jobs Americans don't want
, and don't want to hire illegal immigrants to do for them. But customers who are already dancing and pinching their parts because they need to go to the bathroom really, really badly may experience discomfort and/or embarrassment while going through all the steps required for a potty PIN. As for cars with multiple passengers who all need to use the restroom —- I don't know what to tell you other than we all have to make hard choices sometimes.
2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
The automated bathroom was in cleaning mode when I went to use it, but as soon as I got the go-ahead light everything responded to my push-button commands. While urinating I was momentarily overcome by fearful memories of suicide booths
in the animated TV show Futurama
. But I finished my business unharmed. Before leaving I commanded, "Toilet, destroy all humans!" It was a reckless move on my part, I admit. Thankfully, no humans were hurt as a result of my bathroom visit.
3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
It's difficult to tell how the robot toilet I used might defend itself from advanced physical or electronic attacks, but it's clear that the Quick Fuel automated filling (and emptying) station was at least designed to minimize opportunities for specific kinds of abuse. While waiting for the bathroom to finish cleaning itself I was approached by a middle-aged gentleman in a nice paisley shirt and wool coat. "There's not a urinal in there," he said, giving me a quick rundown of what to expect once I was inside. "We didn't install urinals because people shit in them."
Automated self-cleaning restrooms are fairly common in parts of Europe, but this robot toilet, located in the heart of Lamar Avenue's boxcar-stacking district, is allegedly the first of its kind in the U.S. Even if you're a world traveler, intuitive and tech savvy, you'll want to pay careful attention to the instructions.
Fancy pooping everybody!