Dec 15, 2022 I Paul Seaburn

New Film Shows Birthing Pods and Baby Farms -- Has the Brave New World Arrived?

In 1932, Aldous Huxley introduced us to a “Brave New World” and the idea of natural motherhood changed forever. The dystopian novel was set in AF (After Ford) 632 (2540 CE in the Gregorian calendar) in a time when babies are created and developed in artificial wombs so that they are born with predetermined intelligence and strength in order to fit into predesignated classes or castes. While the novel’s prime focus is on the post-birth state of government control, the rows of artificial wombs in a lab could have been the scarier image … except that the world of 1933 was far from having the science to accomplish that but close to having a number of authoritarian dictatorships hell-bent on full government control of their countries - and the world. Today, that threat is unfortunately still with us, but the science of genetic engineering of zygotes and the advent artificial incubation chambers has accelerated to the point that they may be close … or here. A video making the rounds of the Internet claims just that – it purports to show “EctoLife, the world’s first artificial womb facility” and its dystopian images are so realistic that many are wondering if Ectolife is real. Is it?

Is it theoretical or real?

“The world’s first artificial womb facility, EctoLife, will be able to grow 30,000 babies a year. It's based on over 50 years of groundbreaking scientific research conducted by researchers worldwide.”

The video (watch it here) was produced and uploaded by Hashem Al-Ghaili, a film producer and biotechnologist, who admits the facility is still a concept but the science is real. His goal, as described in the press release accompanying the video, is to give hope to women who have had their uterus removed or have something else that prevents childbirth, or women who fear premature births or C-sections. Al-Ghaili also sees this as a solution for countries with low birth rates resulting in population declines -- Japan, Bulgaria, Portugal, Thailand, and South Korea are a few of many more. He told Science and Stuff that he was motivated by comments by Elon Musk about population collapse, recent infertility statistics in the U.S. showing 1 in 8 American couples has issues with fertility and 1 in 10 cannot conceive at all, and in particular a statement by tech investor Sahil Lavingia:

 “We should be investing in technology that makes having kids much faster/easier/cheaper/more accessible. Synthetic wombs, etc.”

Al-Ghaili’s idea for EctoLife is a facility powered by renewable energy containing 30,000 artificial wombs or uterus pods. The pods would be far superior to natural wombs – they would be infection-free and fully-loaded with sensors to monitor heartbeat, temperature, blood pressure, breathing rate, etc. A screen would show real-time data and link to the parents’ smartphone – yes, unlike the “Brave New World” of Our Ford, parents would still be around in the EctoLife world … for a while, at least. Their main job during the artificial ‘pregnancy’ is to watch as the artificial womb provides the best nutrients and oxygen through an artificial umbilical cord. The fetus will float in a custom-designed (using artificial intelligence) amniotic fluid filled with vital hormones and antibodies for healthy growth and development. Waste products are removed by a separate bioreactor, studied for any abnormalities, and then recycled into more nutrients.

“I just felt the baby kick!”

Is that feature of expectant parenthood a thing of the past? Not at EctoLife! According to the press release, a wireless haptic suit connected to the uterus pod will simulate kicks in the womb. For those interested in a more advanced interaction. It will also connect to a 360 camera and microphones in the pod to the parents can experience being inside the pod using  your virtual reality headset. Holding a speaker next to a pregnant belly is also a thing of the past as EctoLife will feed your favorite playlist into the pod – even allowing you to record your own singing.

Play 'Freebird'!

“Say goodbye to the pain of childbirth and birth-related muscle contractions.”

Who needs birthing classes, breathing exercises or epidurals when you have EctoLife labs? The delivery process is described as being “smooth, convenient, and can be done with just a push of a button.” No more emergency water breaks – the amniotic fluid is sucked out and the parents are allowed to reach into the uterus pod and remove their baby … which is guaranteed to be theirs by a “post-delivery free DNA paternity test.”

It sounds so high tech, clean and advanced. What could possibly go wrong? 

One of the things EctoLife will monitor is physical development and potential genetic abnormalities. Ideally, the EctoLife staff will use in vitro fertilization to create and select the most viable and genetically superior embryos. At this point, the EctoLife press release takes a turn to the dystopian side.

“And if you want your baby to stand out and have a brighter future, our Elite Package offers you the opportunity to genetically engineer the embryo before implanting it into the artificial womb. Thanks to CRISPR-Cas 9 gene editing tool, you can edit any trait of your baby through a wide range of over 300 genes. By genetically engineering a set of genes, the Elite Package allows you to customize your baby’s eye color, hair color, skin tone, physical strength, height, and level of intelligence. It also allows you to fix any inherited genetic diseases that are part of your family history so that your baby and their offspring will live a healthy comfortable life free of genetic diseases.”

Yes, the video implies that this will be at the discretion of the parents, but Al-Ghaili said at the beginning that his goal is to help countries counter population declines. What if the country’s leaders decide they need more geniuses? Or more sanitation workers? Or a special kind of sanitation worker that can work 24/7 in sewer systems without contracting any diseases … perhaps even being able to feed on the sewage they are cleaning? Or a special kind of warriors? What will stop them … especially when the profitability of having such workers is already evident to businesses?

“With EctoLife, miscarriage and low sperm count are a thing of the past.”

The sperm count is merely a distraction from the final aspect of pregnancies that seems to have been glossed over in the EctoLife presentation – the forced termination of a pregnancy. While the press release addresses the idea of reducing miscarriages, can EctoLife really eliminate them? And what about when the pod monitors pick up an abnormality not fixed by genetic engineering? Are EctoLife and Hashem Al-Ghaili ready to deal with both sides of this ethical hot button?

Al-Ghaili says his film is still hypothetical and one of its purposes is to stimulate discussions about creating an EctoLife world. Will those discussions include a Brave New World?

Or is it already too late for discussions?

Paul Seaburn

Paul Seaburn is the editor at Mysterious Universe and its most prolific writer. He’s written for TV shows such as "The Tonight Show", "Politically Incorrect" and an award-winning children’s program. He's been published in “The New York Times" and "Huffington Post” and has co-authored numerous collections of trivia, puzzles and humor. His “What in the World!” podcast is a fun look at the latest weird and paranormal news, strange sports stories and odd trivia. Paul likes to add a bit of humor to each MU post he crafts. After all, the mysterious doesn't always have to be serious.

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