Racist soap dispenser

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/16/racist-soap-dispenser.html


Uh. So this is NOT how they work?

Passive infrared sensor. Infrared sensors detect infrared energy that is emitted by one’s body heat. When hands are placed in the proximity of the sensor, the infrared energy quickly fluctuates. This fluctuation triggers the pump to activate and dispense the designated amount of soap


Andrew Anglin of the Daily Stromer owns that machine.


Some do.

Some emit a light which has to bounce back to activate the dispenser.

I can see that skin colour might affect how light bounces back.


Did I say anything? I asked a question…or have I forgotten how punctuation works?

I looked up “how do auto soap dispensers work?” that was the explanation I found. Infrared energy has nothing to do with skin tone…so I asked is this not how they work. I am not a soap dispenser engineer or technician.


If that is the mechanism I agree skin tone could affect it.

I personally have found auto dispensers often do not work on the first few passes for me. I always seem to have to wave my hand a few times or even hold it there and wiggle my hand up and down. I am paste white so I always made the joke I must be a vampire or a member of the undead or something. I never thought the soap dispenser technology was racist.


Meither neither.

I was mostly just kidding, sorry I didn’t add a wink or some such.


His mistake was trying to use the soap dispenser at Veridian Dynamics.


This is snark, right? It’s impossible the machine just needs an adjustment? Better assume the worst?


Some sensors respond to motion, others to light, and still others to body heat. I learned about the body heat kind last month when I was at a campground and tried to use the shower building’s hand dryer to dry my soaking wet shoes. No bueno. It would turn off uncannily fast.

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My apologies in return, because I did not realize you were joking, and agreed if there was a wink I’d have taken it as snark or sarcasm.

I honestly never thought I’d see the day when we now see technology as racist. I am trying to understand if this is something we should roll eyes at or take seriously. And based on the events from the past weekend…I am not sure either direction provides any comfort.


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It’s very clear to me though that technology can reflect its creators’ biases, whether those biases are conscious or unconscious.


Neither have I.

I think though that this:

may have something to do with that for both of us.

He may be wrong, he may be right. I think there is certainly plenty of evidence to suggest that even without actual deliberate racism, there are plenty of ways in which people design things for what they consider to be the ‘default’.

Hah- beaten to it by milliefink.


It’s something that happens to darker-skinned people quite frequently, actually.

And not just with bathrooms:


Hence the need for diversity in tech. If you have no black people in your office, will it even occur to you to test if something works for them?


Better Off Ted:

Ted: The system doesn’t see black people?
Veronica: I know. Weird, huh?
Ted: That’s more than weird, Veronica. That’s basically, well… racist.
Veronica: The company’s position is that it’s actually the opposite of racist, because it’s not targeting black people. It’s just ignoring them. They insist the worst people can call it is "indifferent."
Ted: Well, they know it has to be fixed, right? Please… at least say they know that.
Veronica: Of course they do, and they’re working on it. In the meantime they’d like everyone to celebrate the fact that it sees Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders, and Jews.


I agree with you and @milliefink but being realistic about things…a standard or default has to be agreed upon. It is unrealistic to solve for all things, all people, all tastes, etc etc etc.

In this case I think that @Boundegar might be on to something. It probably just needs adjustment.

I think it’s fair to expect that everyone can operate a soap dispenser.

Whether this is just a defective device, I don’t know. I’m not going to say that the guy in question doesn’t have any right to think it’s more than that.


I just want to say, I FUCKING HATE MOTION SENSORS in bathrooms.


I know I will sound like an old man yelling at a cloud, but I swear to go like half the time the sinks don’t work when I use them, or the towel dispensers. One time I really, really, really needed some water to take a pill, and the only thing available was the bathroom sink, which ONLY gave hot water automatically. I am waving my hand around like a goddamn idiot, dripping water trying to get a towel.

And the big irony, is the water saving toilets going off for no reason. Or when you leave a horror in the bowl and it won’t flush, so you hit the manual button.

So if they don’t work for me half the time, and if they don’t work well for some skin tones, I imagine there are some people who assume it is one big joke and they never work.


Captain Dissolution has had it out for a kickstarter item that is bound to be vapor ware, where it projects a screen on your wrist, noting that it wouldn’t work for half + the worlds skin tones.


This seems to be the dispenser in question.
It says “infrared” sensor so Im not sure what’s
happening here.