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Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Declining Birth Rates Have an Economic Impact — but This AI Concept Isn’t an Answer

Declining birth rates worldwide could cause a bevy of social problems — but this concept, fueled by AI, is hardly an answer to sustained economic growth.
Declining Birth Rates

Aspiring scientist Hashem Al-Ghaili is plotting to take the humanity out of human reproduction by replacing pregnancy with artificial wombs run by apps and artificial intelligence (AI) in his proposed EctoLife baby factory. Although the Matrix-esque facility is only a concept at this point, Al-Ghaili is already preying on fears of maternal mortality and declining birth rates to promote acceptance of his plan to commodify human biology. Naturally, the planet’s worst billionaire supports the notion as a “viable and likely needed” (according to Forbes) solution to his biggest fear — the impending peak and decline of population growth. And while said billionaire frets publicly over how to colonize Mars with fewer desperate workers available, the push for continued population growth even as the climate crisis rages and resources dwindle demonstrates just how broken the current economic system is. Instead of allowing AI and tech to manufacture future consumers to keep profits from plummeting, perhaps we should consider creating societies that are more conducive to families and children.

To be clear, Al-Ghaili is a “science communicator” — a man of media, not tangible invention. His EctoLife concept represents a theory based on decades worth of work by reproductive scientists. To the cynical, this method will be reminiscent of that same plutocrat who spearheads technology in a way that falsely conflates cutthroat business practices with actual scientific contributions.

But it also represents a real threat as the cults of personality that have sprouted up around rich men with big opinions could very well result in the commodification of human existence down to the most basic level. And while Al-Ghaili plays on fears of infertility in order to pander for support of his proposed baby farm, there is at least one promise from the YouTube video which makes it abundantly clear that his ultimate goal is to replace the entirety of natural human reproduction with products gestated in synthetic wombs.

"With EctoLife, premature births and C-sections will be a thing of the past," a woman’s voice narrates as the video pans over row after row of computer-generated images (CGI) of babies gestating in transparent plastic growth pods that look like something out of The Matrix. But how can c-sections and premature births be a thing of the past as long as there is human pregnancy? How can that be unless ALL babies are produced via fake wombs? Just as electric cars were never really about saving the planet, Ectolife has nothing to do with some grand compassion for the plight of those who bear children or infertile couples — rather, it’s all about greed.

Likewise, that the video presents EctoLife as a solution for declining birth rates when women are increasingly choosing not to have children — not because of pregnancy, but because they do not want the burden of raising children — demonstrates just how out of touch Al-Ghaili is with the very issue that is his excuse for attempting to hijack pregnancy.

It’s no surprise then that recent Twitter exchanges on the topic featured a series of men jumping on board with fake wombs, many of them in the name of “equality”. Of course, taking female pregnancy out of the picture is not going to change the nature of who gets stuck with the bulk of childcare and household duties — that is a ridiculous notion. So, it’s no surprise that those most affected are conspicuously absent from the conversation — with the idea being pushed not by people with uteruses, but by rich men and their simps.

As if all this isn’t bad enough, EctoLife also boasts gene-editing technology so that the future can be populated by genetically modified babies and parents never have to be disappointed by a child who comes out too short, too dumb or with a disability. The future, according to Al-Ghaili, is apparently eugenics. Is it any surprise then that all of the CGI pod babies in his YouTube video have white skin? 

Knowing what we know about the world’s lower birth rates and the changing demographics of people choosing not to be mothers — not because of pregnancy, but because of everything else entailed — breeding humans in synthetic womb farms raises other dystopian possibilities as well. If fewer people want families but billionaires demand population growth, how long until they just set up their own EctoLife facility and grow their own Mars colonists? How long until a despot uses the technology to produce an army of GMO soldiers? 

And that’s not to mention the unknown consequences of being gestated in an artificial womb versus a human body. It’s not unreasonable to wonder if such babies would experience emotional, social or mental deficiencies that could affect their bonding and development in a similar manner as children raised in orphanages. Just as a Romanian experiment demonstrated children’s intrinsic need for love and interaction, it should also serve as a warning against meddling with our basic biology.

While infertility is a real problem for many couples who do want to start a family, synthetic wombs are not the answer. Rather, we must look to the root cause of increasing infertility and fix the structural problems that are leading people to put off procreation until they are financially stable but no longer able to conceive naturally as well as the lifestyle and environmental factors that are leading to reduced male fertility.

At present, the EctoLife concept cannot proceed beyond fantasy in rich men’s heads as research on human embryos is only allowed until the two-week mark. Still, Al-Ghaili is hoping that ethical restrictions will be lifted soon enough to allow lab-grown babies to hit the market in the next ten years. 

Image credit: Jhon Macias via Pexels

Riya Anne Polcastro headshot

Riya Anne Polcastro is an author, photographer and adventurer based out of Baja California Sur, México. She enjoys writing just about anything, from gritty fiction to business and environmental issues. She is especially interested in how sustainability can be harnessed to encourage economic and environmental equity between the Global South and North. One day she hopes to travel the world with nothing but a backpack and her trusty laptop.

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