Super-Toys Last All Summer Long Brian Aldiss Super-Toys Last All Summer Long is a short story by Brian Aldiss. The text unfolds by telling the story of what would seem to be an ordinary family at first. We then start to realize that the story is about a rich couple in an overcrowded world, who have a three year old robot for a child. The plot deepens as we, as a reader, discover that this robot has in fact human-like feelings, which could pose as a moral problem. It demonstrates as a main theme the role that artificial robots could have in a futuristic society.
As technology is advancing, can we distinguish between what is real, and what is not? The Swinton’s are a prosperous family that live in an overcrowded world set in the near future. The story is told by an omniscient third person narrator describing the beautiful setting in which Monica Swinton and her three year old son, David, live in. At first glance it appears as if to be a completely ordinary household in summer, with an energetic child leading his mother around to play.
The narrator then reveals that they in fact live in an overcrowded world, and that the garden was in fact a hologram; an image created by future technology. This demonstrates that people in this world aren’t always aware of what their actual surroundings are, hence why they are lonely. They put themselves in the enclosed artificial world they want to, far from reality. The narrator then cuts to a secondary Swinton family member, the father. Henry Swinton is the Managing Director of Synthank, a company that fabricates artificial life such as humanoids.
He is hosting a luncheon as a celebration of the launching of a new product; their first intelligent synthetic life-form. This humanoid has a computer that communicates with synthetic flesh to act as a companion. Synthank propose this humanoid as a solution to loneliness in a world with an increasing overpopulation, which is fairly ironic. This shows that not only do people in the future live in artificial surroundings, but also have synthetic life-forms for companions. As the plot continues, we discover that David is in an emotional conflict between him and his mother.
David feels that his mother is lonely, and wants to express his feelings of affection towards her but is afraid that she might reject him. In line (19) it states that ›She had tried to love him‹. We are confused hearing this, because she is after all his mother. Meanwhile, David has a robotic teddy bear called Teddy, whose role is to keep David company and guide him. This robotic teddy bear does not have any real emotions or thought process, but tries anyway to guide David through various situations.
We can see this in line (unknown) as he says: ›Inside the bear, a small computer worked through its program of possibilities. “Why not do it again in crayon? ”‹ and ›The bear shuffled its alternatives. “Real things are good. “‹. The story takes an ethical turn as we realize that David is in fact, a robotic child. His mother is not capable of loving him because he is not real, but only designed as a substitute until the Swinton’s can conceive an actual child. In the end, we find out that the Swinton’s finally get a pass from the ‘Ministry of Population’ to have a child.
This means that David will have to be sent back to the factory in line (unknown): ›”His verbal communication-center is still giving trouble. I think he’ll have to go back to the factory again. “‹. This poses as an ethical problem because even though his mother doesn’t seem to have any affection for him, his sentiments for her are so vividly described throughout the story. Despite the fact that the robotic child is not ‘real’, he seems to have developed human emotions and feelings while even questioning his existence.
This leads us to another question; just because the child is made out wires and metal, unlike the humans, does this make his feelings any less real than theirs? Even though the mother knows that David is a humanoid designed and programmed to keep her company, he does not know this and ‘feels’ emotions when confronted with different situations. Just because the mother is made out of skin and bone, it doesn’t necessarily mean that her feelings are any more real than her child’s. His sentiments are a result of programming, while hers are a result of instinct.
In conclusion, we can affirmatively say that the surroundings in which the Swinton’s live in are not real, as these are holograms created by projectors meant to be an illusion of something real. Even though these are illusions, humans are deceived into thinking that it is real. We can however say that the feelings that both David and his mother feel are both ‘real’. The only difference lies in that David is a robot and his mother a human. This topic poses as an ethical problem in this story, because if robots feel just as much as humans, they should be treated equally.