Chinese researchers are working on growing fetuses in artificial autonomous wombs that use an AI-based nanny to monitors fetuses’ development.
The dystopian world described in many science fiction novels seems to be getting closer. Chinese scientists are working on a robot nanny that can take care of the needs of fetuses placed in an artificial womb. They have described their work in the Journal of Biomedical Engineering.
The invention is described in an article in the South China Morning Post as a revolution in the face of china’s falling birth rate. China has recently allowed couples to have up to two children since 2016 and increased to up to three children in 2021. These changes don’t seem to be enough, and the birth rate has decreased to just 7.52 births per 1,000 population by the year 2021, a historically low number that is accelerating the problem of an aging population.
A fully automated artificial womb
The artificial womb or “long-term embryo culture device” is described as a system that contains nutrient fluids into which mice embryos are placed so that they can grow to full term. The artificial uterus is monitored by an AI (artificial intelligence) that can adjust the flow of carbon dioxide and nutrients and intervene in case of problems.
The device uses three phase-contrast optical modules to monitor the growth of the embryos. The artificial nanny that is used can classify embryos according to their health status and potential for future development, detect abnormalities, and report any serious problems to a technician.
Ethical Issues in Human Applications
The researchers are currently limited to only testing on animal embryos because international law restricts research on human embryos to 14 days of development. However, the Chinese team wants to continue beyond the 14 days because “there are still many unsolved mysteries about the physiology of typical human embryonic development,” says Sun Haixuan, who led the research. Such a study would really increase our knowledge about embryonic growth and developmental abnormalities.
However, another obstacle would prevent the use of an artificial womb for human babies. Surrogacy is banned in China and would therefore make it illegal for any hospital to use it. “I don’t think any hospital will take on this responsibility,” Sun Haixuan said.
If this technology becomes available and affordable in countries where surrogacy is legal then anyone could have a child regardless of their relationship status. The effects of autonomous artificial human wombs on humanity would shatter the current family model.