Babies grown inside pods have been a dystopic trope in science fiction since before Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, but a startling new concept video shows how these facilities may look in real life.
For now, “the world’s first artificial womb facility,” EctoLife, remains in the imagination of Hashem Al-Ghaili, a biotechnologist and filmmaker. However, Al-Ghaili claims the idea stems from over 50 years of “groundbreaking scientific research.”
In theory, a single EctoLife facility could grow 30,000 human babies each year, powered solely by renewable energy. The artificial womb technology would remove the pain of childbirth through machinery, address infertility, and mitigate prematurity.
The video states that parents who purchased the “elite package” would be able to customize their baby’s traits, including strength, hair color, eye color, and skin color. Moreover, scientists would be able to identify and mitigate the risk of genetic diseases.
The baby’s parents would be able to use a smartphone app to easily track the health of their child. Furthermore, a 360° camera would allow the parents to view their growing child through a VR headset.
The concept video also states that music and words would be played for the baby to aid cognitive development. Within the smartphone app, parents would be able to speak or sing to their growing babies from any location. The fictional facility would also offer vests that allow parents to feel the baby’s kicks, simulating the real experience.
Moreover, EctoLife could, in theory, allow infertile parents to have their own biological children. The video also states that the technology would aid several countries such as Japan, Bulgaria, and South Korea which are grappling with low birth rates.
Currently, the concept video has over one million views on YouTube and over 6,000 comments.
Although artificial wombs remain in the realm of make-believe, Al-Ghaili believes the technology is ready and facilities may become available within the next decade.
Professor Joyce Harper, head of the Reproductive Science and Society Group at the University College London Institute for Women’s Health, concurred with Al-Ghaili.
“I have no doubt that at some point, most people will be produced by IVF. And that [EctoLife] would be a possibility. In science, I think you should never say never,” she argued.
“From a theoretical standpoint it’s possible,” added Andrew Shennan, professor of obstetrics at King’s College London. “It’s just a matter of providing a correct environment with fuel and oxygen.”
As for ethical concerns regarding the gestational connection between a mother and her child, Shennan believes that, with the advent of IVF, “we’ve already crossed that bridge.”
“When test tube babies first happened, there was a big debate and push back, but the test tube baby is now widely accepted. … In a way, you’re just asking the machine to be the surrogate, instead of another woman,” he continued.
Likewise, while the genome editing of the “elite package” might faze some, including Harper, who in a recent debate on the issue argued that it would be detrimental to humankind, she found herself in the minority: “Young people don’t have those hesitations that we have.”