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What If Humans Were Manufactured Instead Of Born? | Unveiled

VOICE OVER: Peter DeGiglio
What does the future of human life look like? Join us... and find out!

What does the future of human life look like? Are we heading for designer babies? And what could that mean for human society? In this video, Unveiled uncovers how many of the themes from Aldous Huxley's iconic novel "Brave New World" are coming true in real life.
Transcript

What If Humans Were Manufactured Instead of Born?


In 1932, a vision of the future like none that had come before it was published by English novelist Aldous Huxley. In his seminal and most influential book, “Brave New World”, Huxley imagined a world of asexual reproduction; humans were mass-produced, genetically engineered, and placed into a rigid caste system for their entire lives. But is “Brave New World” closer to fact than fiction?

This is Unveiled, and today we’re answering the extraordinary question; what if humans were manufactured instead of born?

For thousands of years, ordinary childbirth has suited humanity just fine. But in the twenty-first century, with birth rates generally falling globally and male fertility under threat from pollution, is it time we started looking for an alternative method to keep our species alive? Already, fertility treatments like IVF, artificial insemination, and surrogacy are widely used by people who face reproductive issues and want a child that’s genetically theirs. If infertility rates one day increase drastically, we might need to turn to even bolder treatments – to the extent of not only conceiving, but also growing humans through artificial means.

What could cause such a calamity? Well, it could be anything from a nuclear war and the effects of radiation to a bioweapon or virus. If any of these rendered large swathes, or all, of the population infertile, we would need to “manufacture” new humans on a large scale. Then again, even without a large-scale disaster, this method of reproduction could just become a popular alternative for people who don’t want to conceive naturally and carry a baby to term. It might also allow greater control over a child’s genetic makeup and health, letting parents design and shape their offspring. This would raise obvious ethical issues, but might appeal to people nonetheless.

Regardless of the reason, it’s completely plausible that human manufacturing could one day be widespread. Already, we have a lot of experience cloning mammals. The first mammal cloned from an adult cell was the famous Dolly the Sheep in 1996. Since then, we’ve also cloned mice, rats, ferrets, goats, deer, cows, camels, horses, and primates. It’s become a commercial process where, for tens of thousands of dollars, you can ensure your beloved pet dog or cat can live forever - constantly reborn as a clone. In fact, in 2018, Barbara Streissand revealed that she’d cloned her dog twice.

It’s only a matter of time before somebody breaks the rules and starts performing true human cloning. And indeed, many experiments cloning embryos to generate stem cells have been performed with great success. Even where embryos aren’t cloned, they can still be altered. The prospect of designer babies remains controversial; the only known instance was in 2019, with the birth of twins Lulu and Nana. It landed Chinese scientist He Jiankui in prison. However, it might also be inevitable, with prospective parents and researchers drawn to the ability to edit out undesirable traits using gene-editing tools like CRISPR.

In the future, these two areas of science could coalesce into the very future Aldous Huxley warned us all about: babies genetically engineered to have certain characteristics and raised without the need for parents at all. In “Brave New World” this is precisely what happens; infants are born and raised in industrialized “hatcheries”. They are then placed into a rigid caste system where designated “alphas” occupy the very top of the societal hierarchy, and any dissenters who oppose this system are banished. This is definitely the worst-case scenario for manufacturing humans artificially; it could promote and legitimize eugenics on an unprecedented scale.

But if sterility becomes a widespread issue, and we aren’t designing children to edit or remove certain traits from their genomes, there could be benefits to this alternate system of reproduction. One major advantage is that the risks of pregnancy to the expectant mother would completely disappear. Undoubtedly, some people would always want to naturally conceive and go through childbirth, but for those who wished to avoid the risk and still wanted a biological child, a manufacturing system could offer hope. Even in countries with the best healthcare in the world, simply being pregnant still poses many risks; if you have a disability it’s even more dangerous. If you and your partner could simply have your DNA combined externally and then propagated by a cloning machine, it could be quicker, safer, and easier. This could also be safer for babies, reducing complications like premature birth or birth asphyxia.

In order to grow humans outside of ourselves, we’d need artificial wombs. We’ve already made progress in creating these. In 2017, researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia placed premature lamb fetuses in artificial wombs, where they continued to develop. The “wombs” were basically plastic bags filled with artificial amniotic fluid. The hope is to do the same for human babies born prematurely. From there, we could eventually create artificial wombs where babies could grow from conception to birth.

If this system did exist though, who would be able to make use of it? If humans became sterile, this could be the only method to reproduce. Many people regard reproductive rights as fundamental and universal. The World Health Organization defines reproductive rights as “the basic right of all couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing and timing of their children”. However, if children could only be produced by a state or private entity, this “right” might not be recognized.

In that case, there could be some sort of application process involved, to prove that you would make a good parent. Such a process would probably look similar to what people go through when they want to foster or adopt a child. It might also be expensive - affordable only for the middle and upper classes. In the US, the legal process to adopt a child can cost tens of thousands of dollars, and prospective parents must be rigorously assessed and meet a lot of requirements. It’s not hard to imagine these systems being applied to the human manufacturing process - that is, if we’re still living in a society that actually has parents, unlike in “Brave New World”. There may even be strict rules around how many children somebody can have, much like China’s devastating One Child Policy, widely condemned until its abolition.

But there’s yet another route to human manufacturing that doesn’t necessarily involve parenthood, licenses, or artificial wombs: the construction of synthetic humans. While in a lot of contemporary fiction, androids are incredibly robotic – so much so that their blood may be a different color and they’re made of nuts, bolts, and wires – some versions of synths aren’t like this at all. In Phillip K. Dick’s famous novel “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”, adapted for the screen as “Blade Runner”, the replicants that Deckard hunts are indistinguishable from humans. Earth’s remaining population doesn’t even know there are rogue androids on the loose. The only way to tell is by a trained professional administering an empathy test, or from an invasive bone marrow test, which is said to be so painful it’s usually reserved for dead replicants just to verify the results of the bounty hunters. Despite the replicants being manufactured by a private corporation, they are still grown, and some aren’t even capable of realizing they’re replicants; there’s even been widespread debate about whether Deckard himself is, in fact, a replicant.

Though the replicants of “Blade Runner” are thinking, feeling, and want to be free, the artificial means of their creation dehumanizes them to everybody else in the novel. This is in contrast to “Brave New World” where everybody is born artificially, occupies a position in the caste system, and has been indoctrinated into believing that this society is the best one. They’re kept happy with an endless provision of mind-altering drugs known as Soma.

But of course, if all humans gradually become replicants, and we manage to give them equal rights from the get go, it’s a totally different future. Instead of synthetic humans being subjugated, they could be designed not as a labor class, but as genuine replacements for humanity. Instead of a violent struggle between organic and synthetic life, synthetic life could simply take over slowly in a few generations; you could even implant your consciousness into a synthetic and ensure continuity between the two “kinds” of human.

Like human cloning, the technology to create androids is being developed right now; only time will tell whether these future humanoids will be manufactured to be organic or mechanical.

And that’s what would happen if humans were manufactured instead of born.
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