Sunday 8 April 2012

Remote Kill

 “Six hours in profiling, that is just nuts!” Connor said, shaking his head in disbelief at his companion.

  “Yeah, I'm used to it though”, Mohmad answered, then continued with a smile. “When your mother is from Chechnya and your father from Iran you get used to showing up at the airport really early and still potentially missing your flight. They ask every question seven different ways trying to trip you up in a contradiction so they can deny you boarding. They've got monthly targets for 'detections' so unless they've already met quota I'm always in for a rough ride.”

 Laughing and still shaking his head, Connor picked up his bacon sandwich and bit into it but as his jaw closed there was an audible crack and he winced.

 ”What the...” he said, reaching into his mouth gingerly. In moments he confirmed his suspicion, feeling the jagged edge where only smooth surface should exist. He checked for any hard objects in the sandwich but saw nothing that would give reason for raising a complaint with the restaurant staff.

 “Broken tooth?” Mohmad asked. “Haven't seen that happen in years.”

  “Yeah it is weird”, Connor answered, “I'd better message my dentist.”

  Grabbing a glass of water, he swirled some around his mouth to clear it. A look of consternation came across his face and he froze momentarily, then spat into the glass. Quickly sinking through the water were two whole teeth, with complete roots. The friends both stared quietly at the glass in quiet disbelief.

  After several seconds Connor shook off the shock and reached for his communicator, hitting the entry for his dentist. Seconds later a short text message appeared on the screen, stating that the clinic was closed for the day.

  “Why would the clinic be closed at one in the afternoon on a weekday?” Connor asked.

  “Why don't you call my dentist instead, she's great. Really knows her stuff and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Here I'll wave the contact to you.”

  Quickly manipulating his device, Mohmad brought up the entry for his dentist and then held his communicator over Connor's communicator, shaking it gently once as if adding a little salt to a dish.

  The entry appeared on Connor's communicator and he selected it, sending a brief query. Just six seconds later a calendar appointment opened up on screen and he confirmed acceptance. A Galileo position dot instantly appeared on the map application, showing estimated travel time from his current location to the clinic.

 “Ok, I've got an appointment 45 minutes from now so I'd better get going. Catch up with you another time, ok? Maybe at the old library, they've turned it into a hacker space and maker's workshop now, some of the kids are turning out really cool micro-satellites.”

  “All right, yeah I'll see you there. Go get your teeth fixed, I'll get the bill here.” Mohmad answered, waving his friend away before Connor could reach for the NFC pod on the table.


 “Ok, you've broken a molar and lost two incisors. It is very unusual, actually I've never seen anything like this. You said you haven't had any sore gums or bleeding?” the dentist, Jaśmina, asked.

 “None, no problems at all for years.” Connor answered, speaking as well as he could with the dentist probing deep inside his mouth with a metal instrument.

  “I'm going to probe the area around the adjacent teeth, signal if you feel any pain.” Jaśmina continued.

 Moments later she paused, shock registering on her face before she slammed down a neutral, professional demeanour. Slowly she retracted a whole tooth, dropping it into a tray and then turned slightly towards her lapel microphone, calmly dictacting into it.

 “Lower right premolar detached when probed, no sign of gum disease or damage. No bleeding or pain”. The case file on her computer instantly updated with the voice clip and a transcript.

 Turning back to Connor, she continued “What is your dental history? Anything unusual, maybe something in the family history?”

 Connor shook his head, staring at the tooth in the tray. “No, nothing unusual. I had a full replacement about six years ago and no problems since then, not a single cavity. They were the good stuff, some patented method. My dentist went on about how great they were and I paid a fortune for the job, but it was worth it... well, until now I suppose.”

 “I'm going to need the contact details for your dentist and authority to pull your case from central records, Connor. I don't want to speculate so if you could please be patient and let me investigate this fully I'll get back to you, ok? Don't eat anything for now, maybe just get water or get a smoothie. Use a straw if you are hungry and absolutely have to eat.”


  It was almost seven in the evening before his communicator buzzed. Picking it up immediately he scanned the message, seeing it was another appointment with Jaśmina at the dental clinic in just an hour. He quickly accepted, glancing down at the glass in front of him. At the bottom of the clear water were another six teeth, gleaming white with long roots. It had been a horrifying experience, sitting at the franchise chia outlet, feeling his teeth falling out one after the other.

 He hadn't been able to drink or eat anything, fearing that it would dislodge the remaining teeth, and had spent the day cursing his old dentist and trying to contact him to get answers. The office had remained closed and none of the alternate contacts or even emergency number had worked. He had given up on hearing back from Jaśmina today so the message was an enormous relief.

 An hour later he was at the clinic but wasn't called into the treatment room. Instead Jaśmina invited him into her office and asked him to sit down. She unrolled a display on the desk in front of him, the bright screen showing Connor's treatment history.

 “I couldn't reach your old dentist today, it seems the clinic has been closed. I've checked the tooth that I extracted earlier today and compared it to your dental records. Connor, it seems that you were sold unlicensed teeth.”

 “Unlicensed? What does that mean?” he answered, confusion clear on his face. “I paid a fortune! What about consumer rights, don't I have some kind of legal protection?”

 “Consumer rights don't protect you when you have bought counterfeit goods, actually you could be fined for buying them. Your dentist was not an authorized practitioner. It looks like his license had expired about six months before he grew your teeth from stem cells using the patented method. The rights holder seems to have caught up with him and discovered the malpractice. They activated the remote kill switch yesterday and your teeth are dislodging.”

 “Remote kill switch! What are you talking about? How can somebody kill my teeth?” Connor replied in horror. “They were grown from my stem cells, I paid for the procedure, they are my teeth!”

  “It is like remote deletion of ebooks”, Jaśmina answered. “You know how when they find copyright infringement in a text, like unattributed quotes, the title is removed remotely?” Connor nodded and she went on “Basically each tooth is implanted with a tiny chip that includes details on method, the dentist license number, a serial number and so on. It also has a remote kill switch, so if the manufacturer needs to do a safety recall then they can deactivate it remotely.”

 “What? There is a safety issue with my teeth? Are they poisoning me?” Connor cried out, getting more agitated as he spoke.

 “No, no, sorry, please calm down. Do you remember the Third Berne Convention? It was just after the nuclear bomb attack in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus so the mainstream media didn't really report a lot on the negotiations, but that is when they brought in the new rules on intellectual property. There was a patient safety provision which mandated the inclusion of the chip so they could track defects. There is nothing wrong with your teeth, they are not dangerous. It is just that they used the safety feature to remotely kill them because your dentist had not paid the licensing fees. Basically your teeth are unlicensed and infringing manufactured goods.”

 Connor was shaking his head in disbelief, refusing to believe what he was hearing. His dentist had sold the treatment to him as being top of the range, with a life time guarantee. How could this be happening? He wasn't some fake designer leather purse from a Chinese sweatshop or pirated music clip exceeding the 3-second limit on fair use for previewing! This was his own body, his teeth grown from his own cells.

  Slowly be became aware that Jaśmina had continued talking. “... not reversible I'm afraid. The teeth can't be re-implanted and as you had a full set you are going to lose all of them. I can remove them now if you want or you can wait for them to fall out on their own. I can give you a set of temporary dentures while we grow a new set of your own teeth.”

  Connor looked at her, started to speak and then caught himself, pausing briefly before continuing “Look, I'm a little dazed and confused. Can we take a break so I can go splash some cold water on my face?”


 Coming back from the restroom, Connor said “Are you licensed?”, looking straight into the dentist's eyes.

 Jaśmina smiled at him. “Yes, I'm licensed but not for the patented method that your previous dentist used. I do mostly OpenTeeth work. Here, let me show you my current accreditations.” She worked the screen briefly, bringing up her profile with live links to a standards body that verified her certificates.

 Connor nodded, checked the certificates closely and then asked her “OpenTeeth? What is that?”

  “It is similar to the treatment you had before, but it is not covered by patents. The work was done in collaboration between the University of Gothenburg – that is in Sweden - and the Dental Hospital in Glasgow, then licensed under Creative Commons. There are no extra fees for using it as it was developed by public funded research, they publish everything in open journals as there are strict policies against patenting anything that is derived from research initiatives that are funded by taxation.”

  “Ok, eh, I haven't heard about this before. Why didn't my dentist use it then, is it substandard?” Connor asked.

  “No, they are feature equivalent but because there is no advertising they don't really have the same name recognition as the major brands. A lot of people haven't heard of it, I mean if you are not a dentist then you probably don't read dental journals, right? That is really the only place this gets discussed. Teeth are like any other consumer product, when people don't have any real insight they tend to use price as a guide to quality and the patent methods are by far the most expensive. Your dentist could charge a much higher price for using the patented method and as he wasn't paying license fees the money went straight into his pocket.”

 “Speaking of my money, how do I get it back? It looks like my dentist is gone and the clinic closed down” Connor said. “Can I claim against the rights holders?”

 Shaking her head, Jaśmina answered “No, they will state that the teeth were implanted by fraudulent means and deny responsibility, saying you should have checked his licenses. You could pursue a claim against the dentist if you can find him, but other than that it is a lost cause.”

 “Are there any, uhm, safety provisions in the OpenTeeth?” Connor asked.

  “No, the researchers didn't see any reason to include it. There are no known safety risks with teeth grown in the lab from the patients own stem cells. The stimulus methods provide strict control over growth and the implant step is done after growth is completed.” Jaśmina said. “There are no hazardous materials in the teeth either, they are identical to original human teeth except for enhanced resistance and durability.”

 “Has there ever been a safety issue with these teeth? Or with the patented ones I had before?” he asked.

  “No, none, it really is a proven method. The only remote kills ever done were on patented teeth due to invalid licensing and there has never been a recall of OpenTeeth product” she answered. “Also, it is not like the books or music that used to be in the public domain before it was sold off to private rights holders, the Creative Commons is a real license that protects works but it doesn't try to extract fees from users. There are some specific rules about how it can be used, for example I can only charge you for my time and costs, not for the design of the teeth. Also I have to encode the teeth with the license and attribute the design to the original researchers, not to my own name. The final product is yours though, free to use in perpetuity but you can't sell them to anybody.”

 “I don't see any reason I would ever sell my own teeth.” Connor said “You have convinced me. No extra fees, no remote kill. It looks like I'll be getting some of those OpenTeeth then.”


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