China Battles Toilet Paper Thieves With Facial Recognition

Artificial intelligence has invaded public bathrooms in Beijing, where toilet paper dispensers now detect people's faces before giving out more tissue.
China Battles Toilet Paper Thieves With Facial Recognition
Image credit: via PC Mag

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2 min read
This story originally appeared on PCMag

Do you plan on stealing some toilet paper from public restrooms on your next trip to Beijing? Not so fast: some now have facial-recognition technology that limits toilet-goers to about 2 feet of tissue for every nine minutes they're on the can.

As the BBC reports, toilet paper theft has been on the rise in mainland China, and tourists visiting the Temple of Heaven complex in central Beijing have been caught stuffing rolls of it into their bags. So the temple's management installed high-tech machines in the restrooms that scan people's faces before dispensing tissue.

There are six machines installed for a two-week trial period, according to the BBC. Each one dispenses a strip of paper about 2 feet long after its camera scans the face of the person requesting it, a process that takes about three seconds. The machines won't dispense more paper to the same person until nine minutes have passed. The New York Times recorded a brief video to show how the process works.

While novel, the machines present countless problems, from hacking concerns to whether they cost less than the toilet paper saved. And of course, there's the practical question of what to do if your bowel movement requires more toilet paper than the allotted amount. A representative from the temple explained that staff would be on hand to distribute more toilet paper if people really need it, according to the BCC.

Some tourists at the Temple of Heaven were supportive of the face-detecting toilet paper machines as a way to cut down theft.

"It's a very bad habit," park visitor Qin Gang told the Times. "Maybe we can use technology to change how people think."

In addition to harnessing artificial intelligence to deter toilet paper thieves, we've seen quite a bit of futuristic restroom tech in 2017 so far. Japanese loo-maker Toto brought a porcelain throne to CES in January complete with a remote control and the ability to automatically open, close and sanitize itself after every use.

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