“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and, in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”
‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley
The opening paragraph of Aldous Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ introduces the Central London Hatchery where fetuses are engineered and nurtured in artificial wombs. Published in 1932, the fictional dystopian world has crept slowly towards reality. This week, it took a big leap with the announcement that scientists in China have developed an artificial womb to contain a fetus and an AI robotic nanny to monitor and care for it. How did that novel end?
“The in vitro embryo culture online monitoring system developed in this paper can track and record the morphological characteristics of the development process without affecting the embryo development, and provide a basis for the evaluation of embryo development and the optimization of the in vitro culture system.”
The South China Morning Post (SCMP) reports on the release of a paper in the Journal of Biomedical Engineering by from the Suzhou Institute of Biomedical Engineering and Technology touting the development of an artificial womb-and-nanny combo they claim is already caring for mouse fetuses in their lab. The “long-term embryo culture device” sounds like something out of an old horror movie – a system of clear fluid containers with controllers and oxygen tanks underneath a magnifier which allows the AI nanny and the researchers to watch the embryo grow. (See a drawing here.) The AI nanny collects data and, according to India Times, can even rank the embryos on overall health and potential. Yes, that sounds like it’s right out of ‘Brave New World’.
“(This technology will) not only help further understand the origin of life and embryonic development of humans, but also provide a theoretical basis for solving birth defects and other major reproductive health problems.”
All of this comes from a country with a drastically declining birth rate that hasn’t responded to the end to limits on the number of children a couple can have. this is also a country which has banned surrogate mothers of the human kind. It’s also a country which ignores the laws and ethical agreements of other countries which limit research on human embryos to 14 days before they are destroyed.
Do you need some Soma (the happiness-producing drug of ‘Brave New World’)? Is this the beginning of a real brave new world of artificially ‘hatched’ babies? Are there plans for childhood indoctrination programs, well-defined castes based on intelligence and physical abilities, and training programs specifically designed for each? Does it sound dystopian anymore?
Think about the trauma being wrought upon many people who send their DNA to be tested and find they were not raised by their real parents/sperm-and-egg-donors, or that their father was a serial sperm donor or their birth mother was a surrogate. Now imagine that person being the product of a “long-term embryo culture device.” If it works, will these children become the norm and the rest become the “savages”?
How did ‘Brave New World’ end?
“The sun was already high when he awoke. He lay for a moment, blinking in owlish incomprehension at the light; the suddenly remembered – everything. “Oh, my God, my God!” He covered his eyes with his hands.”
Are we going to cover our eyes too?
Or is it too late?