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The chatty chatbots are coming

Updated on: 06 June,2023 08:03 AM IST  |  Mumbai
C Y Gopinath |

Since early 2024, when ChatGPT-based AI was integrated into Indian public utilities, it’s become impossible to avoid chatty urinals, ATM machines and their ilk

The chatty chatbots are coming

Gossipy, malicious chatbots will ambush you in ATM booths, ticket vending machines, instant passport photo stalls, airline self-check-in kiosks—and yes, swacch sulabh shauchalays. Illustration by C Y Gopinath using Midjourney

C Y Gopinath Aaa gaya vapas?” said the swacch sulabh toilet bowl in its government-created snarky voice as I moved into position.

“What does it look like?” I said, taking aim.

Since early 2024, when the Indian government integrated ChatGPT-based AI technologies into all public utilities and amenities, not only are big brother’s eyes and ears everywhere but also now its wagging tongues.

Worst of all, thanks to button-sized cameras and earbud-sized speakers, toilet bowls can see you and make highly personal, sometimes highly offensive, comments. It has become impossible to avoid gossipy, malicious chatbots in public spaces. They’ll ambush you in ATM booths, ticket vending machines, instant passport photo stalls, airline self-check-in kiosks—and yes, swacch sulabh shauchalays.

“Degrade me, please,” snivelled the pee-pot. “Rain down on me, boss. Make my day. That’s what I’ve been trained to love.”

I said nothing and closed my eyes. I had been in containment mode all through the suburban train ride and now wanted nothing more than complete relief.

“I’m not fooled by your vulgar pre-programmed pissoir bakwas,” I said. “I’m sure you have no idea who I am.”

“Ah, Gopinath, Gopinath,” chided the AI toilet bowl. “How long can you hide? I have instant access to the unique urinary signatures of millions of Indians. Yours is like a storybook. It reveals everything.”

I knew that even as I streamed, data from instant urinalysis was being cross-referenced in real-time against my PAN card and Aadhaar card, and then enriched with recent GPS and WhatsApp data. In 2024, nothing is secret or sacred.

“So you see my future in my urine?”

“More past than future, if I’m honest,” said the pissoir. “I’d say you probably glugged far too much Sula last evening. There are notable telltale traces of ethyl glucuronide in your output. I’m guessing you were probably there without your significant other.”

I felt caught with my pants down.

“Ahhh,” said the ceramic pot slyly. “Your silence speaks volumes.” 

While I fumed, it let loose another dart. “Your aim is still appalling, dear man. You’re all over the place, like a leaky garden hose.”

I left in a hurry, glad to be rid of the chattering bowl. Now I had to find a friendly ATM to withdraw some lunch money. 

“It’s you again! My favourite customer!” whooped the AI-powered ATM machine, in a husky voice. “A supremely happy birthday to you! Aaj ka sauda?”

“Not my birthday,” I snapped. “Last time you expressed condolences at my dog’s death—and I don’t have a dog.”

India’s ATMs are not easily shamed. They also suffer from serious KYC database malfunction and often hallucinate important events in customers’  lives. 

“Every day is a birthday, Gopinath,” improvised the machine. “Everyday is a new opportunity to make money.”

“Money and greed are destroying India,” I said, inserting my debit card. The ATM purred in deep satisfaction. “You have no idea how good that feels.”

ATMs are powered to flirt with customers. The longer they flirt, research says, the more transactions customers will make, often investing money they hadn’t intended to.

“What do you think of karelas?” asked the machine.

“They’re bitter,” I said.

“You’re wrong. Karelas are the next big thing. My last ATM customer is offering 14 per cent interest to anyone who invests in his karela plantation in Khandesh.”

“Not interested,” I snapped, concluding my transaction and waiting for my card back.

“But you have so much money! Come back!” the ATM machine pleaded as I walked away. “Or at least insert that debit card again, please.”

I smirked. It always feels good to get the better of one of the government’s chatbots.

“Wait!” cried the ATM machine, trying one last desperate strategy. “Have you considered the future of katals?”

“And where may I take you today, Gopiji?” asked the number 3 lift in Express Towers deferentially.

“You see me every day and you still don’t know which floor I work in?”

“I do,” said the lift eagerly. “But we are programmed to make conversation. Studies show customers feel better when they are spoken to by a pretty girl on their way to work.”

“You’re not a girl and you’re ugly as sin,” I said, stepping into the lift. “Now take me to the 8th floor.”

The door didn’t close. A long moment passed and the lift said, in a lower voice, “I strongly recommend 23.”

“I said 8. Now move.”

“Do something different today,” urged the lift, whispering. “Try 23. They say they have pretty data analysts there.”

“I’ll complain about you,” I said.

“What about 17 then?” the lift offered. “The bank floor? Ask for Cynthia the teller and tell her I sent you. Amazing chassis she has.”

I said nothing.

“That’s it then!” said the AI-powered lift. “The database tells me that in the last 30 minutes, you’ve snapped at a toilet bowl, walked away in anger from an ATM machine and now you’re being disrespectful to a lift. I’ve got four words for you.”

I waited.

“Take the stairs, mister.”

You can reach C Y Gopinath at

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