Bill Gates, the world's richest person, is investing a large chunk of his wealth into a project called Reinvent the Toilet.
It is comforting to know that some of the many billions of dollars extorted from hapless computer users is being channelled into a good cause.
The Gates philanthropy is motivated by the fact that some 2.5 billion people have no access to safe sanitation as we know it in developed countries. More than 1.5 million children die each year from associated diseases.
The point of the toilet initiative is to help the 40% of the global population who do not have access to water, sewers, electricity and sewage treatment systems. People like us who go to the loo in sheer luxury also have to confront the fact that much of the world's scarce water resources are being flushed down the pan.
Here are the results from the competition at the Reinvent the Toilet Fair recently held in Gates's home town of Seattle (where it rains a lot and water should not be a problem):
Caltech's winning entry was a solar-powered electrochemical lavatory which converts liquid and solid waste into hydrogen which in turn fuels the whole shebang. In places like Scotland which are short on solar power, natural gas will have to be trapped and used as an energy source.
Loughborough University won second prize with a system that recovers water, salts which can be used as fertilizer, and biological charcoal. This charcoal may not be suitable for barbecues.
Thankfully, Gates's own Microsoft company has not been asked to come up with a sanitation solution. Imagine the problems that could be encountered with the beta version of Toilet 2.0.
Even when most of the bugs have been ironed out, there could be moments of frustration and even desperation when halfway through the process there is a system failure and you are told to upgrade from Toilet XP to Toilet Vista. There would be the standard fee of £45 for online technical help.
The rival Apple iPan will be exquisitely designed but very expensive. Users may be concerned about how much very personal information is sent to be stored on a cloud somewhere.
Let's not even go into how Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin might get involved.
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