AI’s latest product – Remini – allows users to upload photos of themselves and their partner to generate images of what their future child could look like.
There are two sides to this. First, the app lets people envision themselves as parents – potentially encouraging people to pursue, rather than delay, parenthood. As one woman said, “I can actually see myself being [pregnant] at some point.”
On the other hand, new technologies introduce a host of temptations and abuses. As reproductive technology advances, doctors could turn AI-generated images of children into reality. This raises the critical question: What is the purpose of having a child?
With AI, the “build-a-child” industry can create a boutique experience where doctors show parents lifelike images of potential children.
Using in vitro fertilization (IVF), fertility clinics can create and test embryos to find a parent’s “ideal” child. Seventy-five percent of IVF clinics in the United States offer genetic testing. This allows parents to create multiple embryos and select the one that matches their preferred sex and eye, hair, and skin color. They can also gauge if a child will develop certain health problems. In one controversial case, deaf parents tried to create a child who would inherit their deafness. Of course, clinics destroy the unwanted embryos.
Big Fertility knows its clientele well. IVF is a $3 billion industry in the United States; the overall fertility market brings about $8 billion. As one convicted surrogacy clinic owner said, “Here is a little secret for all of you. There is a lot of treachery and deception in [the fertility industry] because there is gobs of money to be made.”
Few federal or state laws regulate the fertility industry. It’s only a matter of time before clinics harness the power of AI to enhance the baby-making experience. But just because doctors can imagine it doesn’t mean that they can or should create such a child.
For example, genetic testing doesn’t always work. Last year, a couple sued their fertility clinic because the doctors failed to select a male embryo. Instead, the couple’s surrogate, much to their chagrin, birthed a girl.
In contrast, when doctors correctly select a parent’s ideal child, this creates eugenic concerns. Many fertility clinics report parents want children with White skin, high IQs or specific eye colors like blue or green.
Instead of accepting the natural diversity of potential children, AI allows doctors to create the “best” kind of child. In this scenario, the “ideal” child will inevitably succumb to various trends.
Remini, and AI programs like it, isn’t limited by what is real, natural or necessarily good. For example, the app shows users a potential child from two women or two men. Science isn’t far behind. Scientists have already experimented with mice to turn an egg into sperm that can then fertilize another egg. Scientists call this process “sperm-free fertilization.”
Science fiction warns people of the dangers of AI masquerading as humans. An example of this is “digital” babies: virtual babies that women can care for from their phone. But these phenomena are usually short-lived. Instead, it’s more likely scientists will use AI to create children that are like machines. For example, plastic surgeons reported an increase in “Snapchat dysphoria.” This term describes women who ask their doctors to make them look like the Snapchat-filtered version of themselves.
This is the great temptation with technology: that men would become like machines. By nature, such men would be “manu-factured” – quite literally, “handmade.” When parents design children like an accessory, they aren’t that different from a child trafficker. Even with good intentions, both the parent and the trafficker select a child based on their own desires, not an unconditional acceptance of the child.
Of course, it’s not inherently bad for doctors to use AI to help parents envision their future kids. What is a problem is when doctors use AI to build a child with certain looks, sex or even preselected values. Doctors should use technology to reveal what it means to be fully human. They shouldn’t use it to reduce the human person to a customizable “meat lego.”
To steward this new technology well, the first thing one must do is pay attention to it. Without thoughtful use, AI will fuel the “build-a-child” industry that turns children into products to design, market and sell.
The purpose of every new child is not to become a product or an accessory to adult life, but every new child is a human being, deserving unconditional love.