The idea of an artificial womb is not a new one, but a functional one has not yet been achieved. There are more important questions than the technical ones, however, and they are about ethics. The question is not 'can we?' But 'should we?'
The question already exists over gene editing. Today it's possible to edit genes, with the hope that genetic diseases could be cured or even prevented. But it also raises the possibility of designer babies. There are many opinions about that.
In his vision of the future, in 2323 Charles Joynson foresees artificial wombs as a mixed blessing too. Infertile couples or those with a history of miscarriage will be guaranteed a baby. So will same sex couples. But the facility could also be used by women who don't want the inconvenience of going through pregnancy.
World population is currently rising and there are experts raising alarms about reaching a point where the Earth simply cannot support the number of people living on it. But there are also experts who claim population growth will peak and then either stabilise or decline. Joynson's idea is the latter, and that governments will grasp at anything which will keep the babies coming. So ethics is drowned out by the need for children.
As an extension of this, childcare and schools are expanded to raise surplus children and to mind children when parents don't want them around. Can't have them spoiling one's social life, can we? Children are treated as playthings to be put away when we tire of them.
Of course, once you encourage that mindset, it's only a step away from virtual children. As technology develops it will become possible to create robots that imitate children. So you get someone to love but it has an off switch for when you tire of it. But of course doesn't meet the need of increasing the population.
Despite this initiative some families took to bringing up virtual children which could be turned on and off at will to suit their lifestyle. Virtual children had advantages over living children in that they didn't eat, cry, defecate or break things.This reminds me of the film A.I. Artificial Intelligence in which a highly advanced robotic boy longs to become 'real' so that he can regain the love of his human mother. It also raises some questions in my mind.
Why did the population need to be maintained?
Being able to hand real babies to school or virtual babies turned off reduces children to playthings. Isn't that totally selfish?
What values will the real children grow up with?
Ann Marie Thomas is the author of four medieval history books, a surprisingly cheerful poetry collection about her 2010 stroke, and the science fiction series Flight of the Kestrel. Book one, Intruders, and book two Alien Secrets, are out now. Follow her at http://eepurl.com/bbOsyz