Friday flash fiction – Gorilla Dentists

The old saying goes, “On the internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.”

But as telepresence technology evolved from primitive videoconferencing, through phase after high-fidelity phase of virtual reality, to remote capture of domestic synthdroids, it was increasingly the case that nobody needed to know who anyone was.

Take the case of Ambrose Brook, who pioneered the practise of home dentistry in the mid-21st century. Brook, an unusually gifted dental surgeon, suffered from a range of severe social phobias and anxieties which limited his contact with patients.

The dentist’s frustrating setback coincided with the emergence of a consumer trend popular among his erstwhile clientele in the upper-middle class: Takahashi Robotics’ Silverback model of household synthdroid.

Silverbacks were full-size replicas of Western gorillas, programmed for home maintenance and security duties. Like other fifth-generation synthdroids, the Silverback executed its routine functions independently and without the need for supervision. Though of course it was the charming novelty of watching a half-tonne primate washing dishes, pushing a vacuum cleaner and unclogging roof gutters which drove the model’s surging popularity.

It was a feature new to fifth gens which caught Brook’s attention. Silverbacks could be remote-operated by skilled technicians to perform more complex tasks.

Initially these were restricted to security operations; when a paranoid householder hit an alarm, their home security provider could have one of its on-staff counter-terrorism specialists remote-jack the domestic synthdroid, whereupon it suddenly became a Silverback with fifteen years of military situational awareness training and hand to hand combat skills.

Brook saw an opportunity to expand into the same market. He underwent intensive remote capture training. After honing his technique by treating family members and close friends, he found in the Silverback’s high definition sensors and state of the art controls a greatly improved precision to his telemanipulation skills. He also devised a “home dentistry” kit of disposable tools and supplies which could be shipped at minimal cost to the patient’s residence.

To his delight, he found he did not even require an assistant – the Silverback’s prehensile feet were so easily adapted to selecting tools, applying suction and holding out cups for the patient to rinse with, it was like having a third hand. If Brook could think of an action, the household Silverback he logged into could perform it.

Needless to say, his service became popular in no time. Patients fearful of overdue visits for a checkup were easily persuaded to trust the enormous gorilla which made their bed every day. Brook always used the host module’s own voice rather than overwrite it with his own. Somehow the sense of familiarity overcame the fear, mistrust and shame other members of his profession often encountered in their recidivist patients.

The novelty of the service was its prime booster: showing off the results of a whitening procedure performed by a burly great ape was a fine stimulus for dinner party conversations. For the children, he wore a pointed hat and comical bow tie; these were standard kit inclusions.

Routine clean and polish jobs became more sophisticated. Within eight months Brook had developed a home kit which allowed him to floss, fill cavities, and install and remove braces. Medical regulators were initially reluctant to permit him to conduct complex surgery on anaesthetised patients, but within a year Brook’s devoted patrons included movie stars, rock legends and highly-placed politicians, all wealthy and possessed of stratospheric clapplause ratings. Federal approvals were rushed through.

The popularity of Brook’s remote procedures skyrocketed thanks to Gabrielle Tranh, who cultivated minor celebrity, as a fashion model and hockey player forced into retirement from both careers by injury, into a lucrative SenseStream career.

Tranh, possessed of a vivacious personality and a surprisingly high pain threshold, posted a live sensecast of a jaw reconstruction conducted by Brook through Tranh’s household Silverback, whom she called Huggy George.

Tranh’s hilarious one-sided – and muffled – conversations with the enormous gorilla rewiring her mandible, with only a mild sedative for localised pain relief, was a massive SenseStream hit. Replays topped the billion mark. With a number of followup surgical procedures proving equally popular, Brook’s career, albeit tethered to Tranh’s, was made.

Of course, Brook was not the only gorilla dentist. With demand for his services far outstripping his capacity to meet it, he took on partners. His cadre of dentals surgeons, hygienists and technical support staff was known informally as the Tooth Troop, even in later years, when the scope of the company expanded to other medical, therapeutic and educational services. School visits by Tranh and Huggy George, which included a raucous show and free dental inspections, were in high demand.

It all came to an end following the spring 2167 launch of Takahashi’s first sixth-generation synthdroids.

The new octopoid architecture, eight undulating limbs with a hundredfold increase in haptic sensitivity, was embraced by the trend-loving public. However remote manipulation of the extra limbs with their unfamiliar articulation proved to be impossible for all but a tiny percentage of the population. The Tooth Troop, along with most of their imitators, were unable to transfer their skills to the new paradigm, and business slowly receded as Silverbacks transitioned into obsolescence.

Brook himself suffered a minor stroke on his first and only attempt to remote pilot an octopoid synthdroid. After making a full recovery, he went into semi-retirement to produce and star in a number of educational sensecasts for schoolchildren on the importance of dental health care.

For some years after, he also reprised his role as Huggy George, co-starring with his business and life partner Gabrielle Tranh in several well-received casts aimed at a mature audience.

They never met in person.


 First of all, I have to give a shoutout to the opening quote of the story, which is from a New Yorker cartoon by Peter Steiner in 19-freakin’-93! (Which has to make it one of the earliest internet memes, probably). And a followup thanks to everyone on SenseStream Facebook who for some reason demanded ‘Gorilla Dentists’ as the next story (Rob, Alan, Nathanael – did I miss anyone?), and to Amanda and Rob for trying to make clapplause happen. The dream is alive, people.

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