Incubators on display at an exhibition in 1901. Credit Library of Congress

How will culture embed the emerging technology of ectogenesis, the artificial womb? How will it change a woman’s experience of pregnancy? Will humans still have to have intercourse in order to reproduce? Designer and researcher Hendrik-Jan Grievink from Next Nature Network will explore some answers to these questions in the Reprodutopia workshop at WDCD Live Amsterdam 2018.
By Natalja Heybroek

Foetal surgeon Alan Flake and his team at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia recently designed an artificial womb that could critically support premature babies. Flake demonstrated the science by bringing a lamb to term using this technology.

As this new form of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) continues to develop, Next Nature Network investigates the underlying question of how it will merge with societal expectations. Next Nature Network is the international platform investigating the future in which technology and nature are fusing. ‘Our attachment to it seems to grow every day,’ is how Next Nature Network describes the relationship between humans and technology.

Lamb fetus after respectively four and twenty-eight days in an artificial womb created by Alan Flake

Reproduction and society

Around the world technology has grown to become a crucial part of many peoples’ daily routine in their professional and personal lives. ARTs have been an intimate and integral part of modern culture for many years already and are changing the way couples approach pregnancy. With current reproductive technologies such as contraceptives, ultrasound imaging, abortion, in-vitro fertilization (test tube babies) and baby incubators, technology is already deeply embedded in how humans make babies.

The moral implications of these technologies can be seen from different perspectives. In this case, Alan Flake focuses on the survival rate of new-borns. ‘If we can support growth and organ maturation for only a few weeks, we can dramatically improve outcomes for extremely premature babies,’ he says.

Yet there are many questions about how new technology might impact society in the future. Is this an ideal way for homosexuals to have babies? Will it change the fertile age? Will couples still have sex?

Humane design approach

In the Reprodutopia workshop Grievink, together with researchers, designers, policy makers and entrepreneurs, will engage in mapping current and emerging reproductive technologies as well as the possible, plausible, probable and preferable futures they might bring. The workshop aims to explore what a humane design approach to this subject could be, taking into account the possible effect on intimacy, gender, equality and relationships.

Grievink currently leads the Reprodutopia research project at Next Nature Network, due to become an exhibition and publication in 2019.

Top image: vision of child breeding in artificial wombs