Technology is always changing the nature of human life.
Online socialists a couple years ago were already demanding free uterine replicators for all: “Full Surrogacy Now” by Sophie Lewis, Verso Books in 2019.
I wonder how many of the people angry about the concept as proposed by Silicon Valley guys were in favor of this book at the time.
As a mental exercise I try to imagine how my med student self would perceive my current practice. 20 years (around where I am now) is just about right to make it feel like a completely different era. I think I'd feel like a museum piece after 40.
I'm in a tech-heavy specialty so it's especially noticable, especially since I intentionally tried to learn a few "legacy" techniques from very senior practitioners when I first trained. Unfortunately, people seem more unhappy than ever despite medical tech having so many ingredients to meet your futurism criteria (probably due to frustration in the delivery systems evolving far too slowly).
Regarding your comments on surrogacy ("Who would begrudge my friend this? And even if she were able to bear a second child herself, who would begrudge her the opportunity to outsource it?") I think you underestimate the amount of judgement and social pressure associated with "elective" birth technology already. There's a lot of negativity around choosing C sections, choosing epidurals, choosing to formula feed. Even if it weren't so expensive I think surrogacy would remain uncommon because of the cultural narratives about sacrifice and being a good mother.
“We don’t talk much about this ‘violence’; it’s one of our last remaining taboos.”
This is SO true. It’s crazy how many pregnancies are categorized as “high risk,” and how many different things can go wrong with pregnancy and childbirth. Because of complications in the third trimester, my wife lost her vision and is permanently blind. And, if we wanted more kids, we wouldn’t be able to have them.
And there are millions of stories on that same spectrum.
To someone who thinks that proposals like these are some kind of Silicon Valley circlejerk, I say (to use a phrase I hate): your privilege is showing.
Such a great read!
Another technotopian cri du coeur.
What about all the research where the environment and actions (and immune system) factors that affect the child? The part where the $100K/surrogate story is a lot less "nice" is where the parents stick all manner of highly invasive/micromanagement requirements on the surrogate. It is womb and surrogate enslavement for a year, just with pay.
Furthermore, a robot womb is certain to reveal all manner of mother/child dependencies which are impossible to discern now, much as robot drivers are discovering driver/driver, driver/pedestrian and driver/object in path relationships are not so simple.
As for the 10 changes: how many are positive?
Phone maps: helpless people. No cell service or phone battery dead plus basic navigation skills proven to decline without use.
Google pics and google = what need for basic education, common sense, the ability to research and think when you can just google it.
Social media enables social control, and starting a new life is closely related.
Boredom and loneliness: seriously? I don't think anyone believes social contact is greater today than in the past. Facebook posts don't count as "social", they're just spamming the people you are connected with (which are <> the people you know)
Porn - entertainment but hardly a "good", especially given how ubiquitous porn affects how people view each other and themselves.
The only good mentioned is chicken pox, and even then BFD. Getting chicken pox was never a big deal.
An interesting implication of artificial wombs is that their availability voids the "my body, my choice" argument for abortion. Personally, I support legal abortion because I don't think fetuses have a level of cognitive development sufficient to justify a right to life, but apparently this isn't a winning argument, because "my body, my choice" dominates public discourse.
If a fetus can be pulled out of a womb in a minimally invasive procedure and put into an incubator, then this puts women with undesired pregnancies in the same place many men are now: They don't want the responsibility of having children, but can't appeal to the right to bodily autonomy to justify killing a fetus, especially if the other parent wants to keep it.
Where do we go from here? If a woman gets pregnant and doesn't want to have the baby but the father does, does he have the right to recover the fetus for incubation? If so, does the mother have to pay child support?
Will the public continue to tolerate the killing of fetuses when artificial incubation is an option? If not, what happens to all the babies being put up for adoption?
Artificial wombs have much potential for good, but also the potential to set off a huge clustersnuggle if they come before birth control reliable enough and idiot-proof enough to reduce unwanted pregnancies by an order of magnitude.
I have no problem with artificial wombs. But regarding the robot nannies, I think this one is solving the wrong problem. We need to make people able to afford to spend more time with their kids, this is the true definition of progress. Robot nannies only fix the side effect, and it doesn’t make the parents or the children happier. It just enables them to make good money.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic!
People recoiled in revulsion when euthanasia was introduced.
People recoiled in revulsion at surrogacy.
And they still recoil in revulsion at abortion.
Incidentally, the criticisms always run along similar lines: it's an unnatural or synthetic activity.
But the mind boggling range of unnatural things that we do will exhaust comment sections. It is not natural to live very long or to wear clothes or to peer at glass screens for hours, ...
Whether something is or isn't natural should therefore cease to be a legitimate line of argument.
We can debate legal, economic, political, societal, and health ramifications. Natural doesn't cut it as a consideration.
I am curious as to how many people posting here have children, and if so, more than one. This is not to slight or belittle anyone. I think there is a lot of overlooking the burden of child-rearing which is much more substantial than many stop and think about.
Being pregnant is very taxing on any woman but people overlook just how challenging raising a single child (let alone multiple children) is. There are huge opportunity costs for mothers and fathers and unless these are understood or willful incurred we will struggle to raise birth rates.
Raising children costs people the one commodity they can never earn back—time. A lot of people don’t want to sacrifice their time for children. I am not sure artificial wombs can ameliorate that mindset.
I’ve been saying that the pro-life movement should fully embrace artificial wombs. Then you could terminate the pregnancy without termination the life. A woman wouldn’t be forced to carry to term but the baby would still live. It will be interesting to who opposes this, on the left because maybe they feel that somehow this still violates the woman’s right to choose (???) and on the right because maybe it was about legislating morality after all.
Another unmentioned reaction is that artificial wombs don’t address the fundamental cultural issue of people not wanting to have children.
Birth rates fall in all developed societies, despite the material circumstances for having children being better than ever before. Adding artificial wombs may unlock childbearing for some new groups and relieve involved pains to other. That may very well be a good thing in itself, just as C-sections are. But for reverting falling birth rates, is the answer really better material circumstances? What about other cultural factors and our outlook on the world and its future?
I have seen zero people talk about the affects this would have on the maternal bond and family dynamics. I think this would be disastrous for children and their upbringing. People are vain and narcissistic enough as it is nowadays, we *really* don't need this.
Rates of embryonic growth correlate with rates of aging. Artificial wombs open the door to lengthening both.
I've been thinking about a similar thing, on a much smaller scale. Imagine someone time traveling from the 80s to today à la Back to the Future. First they would be horrifically disappointed by the lack of hoverboards. Then disgusted by the monstrosities we have, for some reason, decided to call hoverboards. Then they'd get settled into the idea that aside from the whole computing revolution you discuss, we're materially not much different from how we were then. And then they would see someone riding what appears to be a regular longboard uphill, and their brain would just break.
I'm only 21, but it's still a trippy sight to see.
Noah, love this! Please do more on living standards/futurism. Particularly curious about your thoughts on the "kitchen test" and when the end of the great stagnation will finally significantly upgrade our kitchens or reduce the burdens of doing laundry, shuttling kids, or cleaning the house. Perhaps they have? My iphone 8 to 13 upgrade is great but doesn't help with physical chores!