The Washington Post today has an expose on the restrooms in Google’s headquarters: “Every bathroom stall on the company campus holds a Japanese high-tech commode with a heated seat. If a flush is not enough, a wireless button on the door activates a bidet and drying.” Tacked up beside that button on the stall door is a piece of paper that “features a geek quiz that changes every few weeks and asks technical questions about testing programming code for bugs.”
I’m reminded, for some reason, of what Danny Hillis, the parallel-processing pioneer whose work paved the way for Google’s computer system, said about mankind: “We’re the metabolic thing, which is the monkey that walks around, and we’re the intelligent thing, which is a set of ideas and culture. And those two things have coevolved together, because they helped each other. But they’re fundamentally different things. What’s valuable about us, what’s good about humans, is the idea thing. It’s not the animal thing.”
A few years back, when Google’s founders still felt free to express their true ambitions, Sergey Brin said to Newsweek, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off. Between that and today, there’s plenty of space to cover.” And, certainly, if you had an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d no longer need the monkey that walks around.
Those Japanese commodes are nice, but it’s important to remember that they’re merely transitional devices. We’ll know that Google has truly fulfilled its vision when the Googleplex no longer needs toilets at all.