The concept and need for such an installation are quite clear. The global human population is now at its peak and is expected to decline from here. The richest person in the world Elon Musk has been open about it and being the father of nine children so far, he believes he is doing everything to prevent the world from suffering a population collapse.
Yet others are looking to technology to meet this need for a younger population that will support the global economy for decades to come. According to a UN report, countries like Spain, Japan, Thailand, South Korea and Portugal are among the 23 countries that are at the forefront of a crisis of this type.
In 2017 researchers built a BioBag containing all the components needed to make an artificial uterus and raise a lamb in it. But now EctoLife aims to scale this to an industrial level and apply it to humans.
The EctoLife Artificial Uterus Center envisions a controversial new way to get pregnant, with the baby growing in an idealized but completely inhumane environment: transparent “growth capsules” deployed by the hundreds in human baby-rearing operations.
To be clear from the start: this is just a concept at this stage, the brainchild of producer, filmmaker and science communicator Hashem Al-Ghaili. There are no immediate plans to build an EctoLife facility, this is simply part of an idea Al-Ghaili extrapolated from the current state of fertility research.
It is designed to start a conversation and champion a new model of parenting that Al-Ghaili believes will be possible years from now and widespread decades from now. The argument goes something like this: Pregnancy is not fun. It can be exhausting, painful, nauseating, intrusive, inconvenient, and sometimes downright dangerous for the mother, and there are many ways it is not ideal for the baby. If you're pregnant and you smoke, party, get really stressed, or contract certain illnesses, you might not be giving your child the best possible start.
But the reality is that the science is not far off, says Al-Ghaili, from being able to replicate ideal gestation conditions in a temperature-controlled, infection-free uterus. An artificial umbilical cord can provide oxygen and nutrition while the baby floats in artificial amniotic fluid, continually updated with precisely tailored hormones, antibodies and growth factors.
Baby waste can be removed, passed through a bioreactor, and enzymatically converted back into a steady, sustainable supply of fresh nutrients. Small monitoring systems can also ensure that the child receives the best possible nutrition for the brain. We're talking about all the classical music you can handle (which may be more than a parent can provide), as well as your own soothing voice, to begin building that invaluable bond.
Vital signs will be constantly monitored, as will physical defects and genetic abnormalities. Real-time data on your little Tamagotchi will appear via a phone app, along with a live HD fetus camera and the ability to view your child's development from embryo to nine months via video
"Human babies are among the most helpless and underdeveloped in the animal kingdom," explains Al-Ghaili. “Why can't we come out of the womb and take our first steps five minutes later, like a calf does? It's because our brains are too big for the space between the human female's hips; we are born raw, with soft, flexible skulls, several months behind other animals in development. But in an EctoLife EZ-Womb there is no such biological limit. You can experience much longer gestation periods, the results can be fantastic.”
According to the scientific popularizer, EctoLife is intended for parents who are unable to conceive or have children naturally. But as it is refined and tested it will become a benchmark for all parents-to-be, easily linking to the IVF, genetic screening, embryo selection, modeling of genetic potential and genetic engineering that we know is coming. That's the argument, in a nutshell, for raising your kids in an "artificial nut shell". Undoubtedly, we are facing a dystopian future, where the human being will cease to be human and will be the beginning of a new race.
What do you think of Al-Ghaili's vision? Do you think we are at the beginning of EctoLife?
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