As far-fetched as it may seem today, there are a couple of obligating reasons why some humen may one day be born without either a mother or father as we now know them, and with no other humans around to bring them up.

The first is the uninhabitable Earth scenario: doomsday. This is the idea that one day our planet will not be able to support human life.

This may be due to catastrophic climate change bring along a large asteroid or comet impact, a nuclear winter following a global nuclear war or a pandemic so severe that humans do not survive.

Whatever the cause of our demise, if humans want to ultimately survive and one day re-emerge, it builds sense to store the building blocks of people ovum and sperm ready for a resurrection of the human race once our planet is habitable again.

There are already gene banks around the world that have been created to store plant seeds for just this kind of eventuality.

The second scenario is the interstellar spaceship notion, where spacecraft are launched from our solar system to nearby superstars in search of potentially habitable planets.

In this form of galactic colonisation, new humen are merely generated if countries around the world procured are suitable. This is a common theme in science fiction and was a core part of the narrative in the recent Interstellar movie where 5,000 embryo were sent in the Endurance spacecraft.

In both scenarios, there is an assumption that humans can be automatically conceived, survive gestation in a machine, and be born and created to live an independent life.

They will then be able to have their own children and hence guarantee the ongoing survival of the human species. The current best bet for this to succeed is to use robots as surrogate mothers for the first generation of new humans.

But how realistic is this? Do we have the technology now, or will we in the near future?

Gestation In A Machine

There are three stages in the development of a human embryo and foetus that need to be considered when automating the process.

The first is in vitro fertilisation( IVF ), which is already routinely carried out in a lab. Fully automating the IVF process is plausible in the near future and is already desired to improve outcomes for potential parents today. Even if such technology did not exist, this step could be bypassed by using already fertilised eggs.

Scientists have already taken the first step towards this by showing that embryos can be grown in the lab for two weeks after fertilization.

The second stage is that of early gestation, prior to around 22 to 24 weeks gestation, when a foetus does not have viable lungs. During this time, the embryo to be required housed in an artificial uterus.

Maybe surprisingly to many, there has been much research into the development of artificial wombs, a field of science is known as ectogenesis.

Diagram of the artificial womb idea by Emanuel M Greenberg, 1955. US Patent Office

In fact, Emanuel Greenberg patented an artificial womb in 1955. His invention contains all the apparatus he thought would be required to grow a newborn. There is no evidence that such a machine was ever constructed.

In a 2011 paper, Dr Carlo Bulletti and colleagues re-evaluated the chances of a laboratory uterus that would supply nutrients and oxygen to an incubated foetus and would be capable of disposing of waste materials.

They concluded 😛 TAGEND

[] the growth and development of fetuses between 14 and 35 weeks of pregnancy is within reach dedicated our current knowledge and existing technical tools.

This leaves the first 14 weeks of gestation as a currently unresolved issue, but there are researchers working on the problem who have shown some restriction success utilizing goat embryo.

The final phase of foetal growth can already be managed outside a mothers womb. If a newborn is bear after 26 weeks in a modern hospital, it has very good chance of survival.

Given all of this progress in the science of artificially maintaining a baby alive, it is not total science fiction to think that newborn will be grown and born from machines in the future.

The drive to develop such technology is not coming from an impending doomsday scenario but from the common desire of people to want to have children.

Child Rearing By Robots

Once a robot has grown a newborn, birthing will likely be easy. It may be as simple as opening a doorway on a machine and cutting the umbilical cord.

But how would such a child be raised? As most parents discover, birthing a newborn is only just the start! The next 18 -plus years of fostering develop personality, character and humanity.

You may think that all children have been raised by people, but there is some evidence of a few cases of non-human mothers. These are the stories of so-called feral children who were raised by animals.

The concept of being brought up without human parents has fascinated people from many cultures for millennia. One myth of the founding of Rome begins with the twins babies Romulus and Remus being lost in the wilderness. They were found and suckled by wolves and then fed by birds until rescued by humans.

Mowgli from The Jungle Book was raised by a menagerie of animals, and Tarzan was brought up by apes.

Supposedly true narratives of children raised by animals in the modern era are popular around the world. Many are clearly hoaxes, but some are real. It has been estimated that there are 4, 000 plausible examples of children being away from other humans and growing up for some period without human contact.

Scientists have studied the effects of such experiences on these children and observed that, unsurprisingly, they suffered an initial inability to communicate that was impossible to fully remedy after proper human contact. For our smart robot mothers this would not be a problem, as they would speak to and teach their newborns language, as human mothers do now.

A robot nanny is nothing knew: Tinker was created by Yorkshire inventor David Weston in the 1960 s. David Weston

A robot parent would have a huge library of human culture knowledge for their growing infants to read, listen and watch. For instance, the lack of a normal human family life could be compensated for by watching television soap operas such as Neighbours. Other television series and movies could be used to show various aspects of human behaviour.

Theres even the possibility of a Superman-inspired fortress of solitude holographic projector with human avatars could train on ethics and morality, as well as the history of Earth.

The selection of which cultural traditions, ways of thinking and behave, and knowledge is presented to children and at what time is an age-old dilemma for any mother human or robot. This would be a problem, but not a new one.

Some robots are already being marketed as being able to babysit children. For many human mothers, the electronic babysitter, television, and more recently learning through iPads has been a popular temporary relief from parenting duties.

There have been bellows that use of robots and iPads to help raise children is ethically questionable. But in the end-of-species scenario we are considering here, these dilemmas are less relevant than the greater ethical question of whether we ought to keep the human species running beyond our natural use-by date?

So it does seem possible that robots could one day generate new humans and create them to adulthood.

But would such humen assure their robot parents as a mother and father in the traditional sense we know today? That would depend on whether we could teach them to have an emotional connection with their robot carers, enough that theyd one day want to celebrate Mothers Day( and Fathers Day) with them.

Jonathan Roberts, Professor in Robotics, Queensland University of Technology and Kelly Greenop, Lecturer in Architecture, The University of Queensland

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