Re: Artificial Womb Technology

Dear Friends,

I am considering writing a science fiction story in which the successful application of artificial womb technology is a major setting/plot point.

For those of you who don't know, what I'm referring to is a technology that's been under development for a while which will allow for a fetus at early stages in a pregnancy to be removed from its mother's womb and placed in a machine which will act as the replacement womb so the fetus can grow and develop the rest of the way.

So, with that in mind, I was wondering if anyone knew of any side-effects that such a technology would be likely to have. Also, in what ways could this technology be abused? I'm not so much asking about the social ramifications of such a technology, I'm hoping to get people's view on the scientific and biological aspects of this tech.

Any help you can offer will be very much appreciated.

Best Regards,
Nicholas S. Casale

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

Some ideas I could think of:

  • Really messed up idea but cannibalism. Perhaps some people steal them and eat the fetus as some weird delicacy

  • Injecting the artificial wombs for human testing

  • Lack of human bonding as the baby is not inside the mother

And now I just read that you asked what it would likely have, I'm not really science-savvy so oops, hope those help you at all for your story.

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

Most likely the womb structure would provide warmth, a heartbeat sound, and perhaps even something to cuddle or some very soft shapes for the baby to grab after it gets to be about 6 months and able to see and flail around.  We know quite a lot about how not to distress premature babies.  What might be missing is that if the baby's body tried to trigger a craving for a particular food, the womb machine would probably ignore that or not know how to interpret it.  Also a real umbilical cord provides nutrients in irregular bursts due to the mother eating distinct meals, while a machine would probably provide a completely steady stream of nutrients.  So a baby coming out of one of these machines might have literally never experienced hunger, and they might not be used to a day-night cycle.  They also might be a little slower to learn how to interpret sounds if they haven't been hearing voices like real babies do through the womb.  I think the major concern would be their immune systems, since they wouldn't be getting either antibodies from the mother's blood or colostrum and other helpful stuff in breast milk. I don't know enough about the science of the immune system to tell you whether that would make them bad at fighting off infections, or the opposite, highly prone to allergies.

Baby animals (including humans) are generally quite resilient though; if they get cared for by an adoptive parent after they are born, that would outweigh and correct many potential problems, and on the other hand, if they don't get cared for by a parent-figure, that can cause psychological problems.

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

One thing to consider is antibodies. Children born this way will likely start life immunocompromised as they will not have received antibodies from the mother. Making a machine that produces relevant antibodies to the diseases adapting and evolving in the population the child is about to join would be miraculous. This may lead to a long term failure for the immune system to develop.

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

The Vorkosigan Saga  written by Lois McMaster Bujold uses artifical wombs to incubate rape babies. There was a war and women were raped and they came out so mentally damaged they decided that the best thing for these women would be to wipe their memories. So they used these artificle wombs for the rape babies. These wombs are a constant theme throughout the series since the main MC only survives a terrorist attack on his pregnat mother bc they put him in an artificle womb. Then is best friend, who was one of the rape babies, gorws up and in later books she runs into her 'birth' mother and it's not good. So even though the artifical wombs aren't the 'main theme' they are directly responsable for some major plot lines.  

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

just an idea but artificial babies wont have a mother to bond with, babies while in development become attracted to their mothers voice. the absence of this i believe would lead to a very challenging psychosis for the said baby. that then would lead to them definitely having attachment, emotional, and a whole buttload of psychological issues.

then there u know, mass produced babies for war, organ harvesting, tribute to evil overlords. meh just some stuff on my mind

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

There are two ways you can view it. 

The first is about positives and negatives regarding the baby once it is removed:

- extremely healthy / problems with the immune system;
- overdeveloped once born / problems with the development;
- increased mental capacity because of reasons / reduced mental capacity (learning new skills, brain defects, etc.);
- can bond very fast with others like them once born / cannot bond with people once they grow;
- perfect physiology (uber human) / deformities due to lack of either proper or specific requirements that cannot be provided by the artificial womb;
- mutations (can be both good or bad depending on how you approach it).

The second way you can look at it is regarding the mother (this gets a bit tricky in terms of pros and cons): 

- no maternal instincts (no one can take care of newborns in the long run);
- happy women because they do not need to experience the negatives of being pregnant / severe depression in women because they cannot experience proper pregnancy;
- women develop greater skills because of the way the fetus is removed (i.e. mental strength, hormone change, etc.) / women become feral or bestial in rare cases;

These are just the main ideas I can think of. There are also ways to combine from both sides, but that would all depend on what you want to do with your story. You could always focus on short, mid- and long-term changes in society or the individual, as I am sure there could be some interesting ideas to explore there as well.

Hope this helps :) 

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

I'm very positive about tech so to my way of thinking you should figure out what you want to say with your novel then develop the abuse of the tech centered on that idea. I could come up with some but they wont be useful if they don't fit with your vision. Like if you wanted to comment on the dehumanization of soldiers the government could go clone wars with it and mass produce soldiers they found to be exceptional. If you want to comment on a lack of social progress due to the negative effect of mass media on science that wouldn't be useful though.

It wouldn't be difficult to hook up a small heart rate monitor with a small microphone to a mother to cover the sound and heartbeat issue. Irregular feedings would just be a matter of setting a timer. Day night could be handled with a hood that raises and lowers over the tank or whatever. There isn't a specific reason to think that a woman wouldn't be able to care for a child just because she didn't carry it physically, adoptive parents prove that. Also this tech would be usable with artificial insemination practices so removing a fetus from a body wouldn't be a requirement though it would be an efficient emergency measure in the event of injury or health complication. Just saying, a lot of the suggested issues so far have easy mechanical fixes. Watch out for stuff like that, readers pick up on it quick.

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

Every single BattleTech novel in the Clan setting. They utilized artificial wombs to gestate castes of genetically curated people, which was central to their military culture, leadership, conduct and history. There was active discrimination against 'freebirth' warriors, in particular. A few did rise up despite The Man trying to keep them down, some even having their DNA added to the stock of the program in order to preserve their ability in future generations. 'Proper' warriors would be grown in batches and raised together in a highly competitive, brutal military training environment. Familial bonding and love was discouraged with extreme prejudice, treated as a weakness of lesser beings.

It wasn't direct genetic manipulation driven, what they did was combine selected male and female genetics together for higher probabilities of certain traits on a eugenics basis. Failed combinations would be culled, while successes could have their personal genetics added to the database so that their personal bloodline would continue. They were brainwashed to seek glory and excellence in their caste as a means of reproduction, an entire replacement of the natural system that was seen by most as an abomination. They had some rather physically divergent traits much like breeds of animals after a while. Battlemech pilots were different from power armor soldiers, who were different from aerospace pilots, who were different from scientists, etc.

You don't need to go that hardcore if you have those, but the '70s and '80s is rife with this kind of stuff. Check out speculative fiction from around when cloning and DNA was becoming popularized, that was the full heyday of artificial wombs as a major plot point.

Re: Artificial Womb Technology

Nicholas S. Casale Wrote: Dear Friends,
So, with that in mind, I was wondering if anyone knew of any side-effects that such a technology would be likely to have. Also, in what ways could this technology be abused? I'm not so much asking about the social ramifications of such a technology, I'm hoping to get people's view on the scientific and biological aspects of this tech.

The main issues with that are not really what goes into the womb (I assume that, in your story, it has been perfected enough that side effects are largely impossible). It's what goes after.

The first scenario is the general womb, used by couples to avoid the problems of pregnancy. Right now, the biggest problem in the developped world is the drop in fertility because couples tend to delay the first (and subsequent) child until they've established their financial stability and put their careers on track. Which, with the increasing length of studying puts this further and further. The average age at which you have your first child is now over 30. Pregnancies are harder after 30 (both to become pregnant, and to keep the fetus to term), and menopause looms very very fast.

So the first scenario leads to an age where fertility increases, but the age of your parents also increase. You essentially stop having children in your 30s, and you get them in your fifties, once you no longer do the rat race. You've got "goddam mother, why do you want to get me a little brother at 70???"

The second scenario is the social womb, used by society/government/whatever to push for children (for example to compensate for the above lack of fertility - I wouldn't put past China to run a womb program to produce lots of girls to re-balance their demographics). The big problem is that you end up with generations of unsocialized children, children basically raised as orphans without ever seeing an adoptive family. Let me say that this is not very good in the average; while some children will turn out ok, a lot of them will be maladapted.

And then, you have the third scenario, in which the womb system gets piled up on by other scientific advances. For instance, we now have the capacity to turn your skin into stem cells, then... to turn those stem cells into sperm. I wouldn't put it far until they solve the full signaling problem, meaning you can turn a woman's skin into sperm. Meanwhile, you can posit the opposite technology - turning a stem cell into an ovum ready to fertilize. That's probably the part where you end up with dysfunctional ova if an Y chromosome sneaks in.

The end result becomes a world in which the % of men slowly drops, as they no longer are strictly required to procreate, and most combinations of IVF, barring specific sex selection, yield far more girls than boys.