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The artificial womb has become a reality, freeing many women from the 9 month burden of carrying a child. Unfortunately, it was not the liberating game changer that feminists hoped it would be. These machines and the technology behind them require multiple steps, and extensive maintenance in order to work successfully. They must provide the necessary requirements:

  1. Ultrasound fetal heartbeat monitor
  2. Implantable blood chemistry monitor
  3. Method for placental monitoring
  4. Cheap genome sequencing
  5. Big-Data analysis of blood chemistry monitor matched with genome sequencing
  6. Rapid transplantation of fetus from womb into an artificial womb.
  7. Chemical duplication of mother's and baby's hormones.
  8. Creation of a viable artificial placenta

Artificial wombs must be housed in specially built facilities, where all these steps must take place and they can be monitored around the clock. This creates a very expensive process from start to finish. The exorbitantly high costs have led to them only being affordable by the wealthy, privileged elite. This has led to much consternation in society. In addition to this, many conservative advocates and other discontent have taken matters into their own hands, attacking and attempting to sabotage. The facilities have to be guarded 24/7, leading to even higher expenses.

How can the cost of a artificial wombs be reined in to make it more affordable for ordinary people?

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    $\begingroup$ There is no need to make them cheap. Once technology can replace a generation without needing parents, there is no need for anyone to ever be parents again. Society itself, equipped with egg & sperm banks, can use these machines to handle its own procreation. Responsibility for the survival of the species no longer needs to fall on us. We can stay emotionally young & enjoy life until we grow old & die. After all, parenthood is already an expensive pass-time. No matter how low you get the womb cost, it won't be cheap enough to make using it a good deal. Bring on the brave new world! $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Jul 24 at 4:40
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    $\begingroup$ Economies of scale I don't have time to write an answer, but this should answer the question. $\endgroup$ – TheDyingOfLight Jul 24 at 12:44
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    $\begingroup$ As a potentially real world situation, China might be very interested in building a large number of these devices to help rebalance sex ratios and to offset the growing number of young women who are not interested in bearing children. $\endgroup$ – Michael Richardson Jul 24 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ This is not exactly an answer, but naturally, health insurance will pick up the tab. Artificial wombs would fall into a broad category of fertility treatments, however, there would have to be a medical reason to use them in any particular case. $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jul 24 at 16:29

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Isn't what you describe the normal price structure for any new technology?

Look, the first computers were so expensive that only a bunch of research centers could afford them.

Same for the first mobile phones: they were status symbols for the rich. Same for cars.

Your technology is no different: the first devices will be expensive and so will their usage, after that, with mass production, costs will go down. Normal economic law.

And with broader usage comes also broader acceptance and no need for armed guards.

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    $\begingroup$ Funny thing: My father was a phone seller back in the 80's when the mobile technology arrived to Spain and his first client was... a junk peddler. He had a fleet of five vans and wanted the cellphone to be able to direct them to places where they were dumping "fresh trash". He didn't balk at the 6000$ (in 80's dollars) price, as he said "he would recover the expense in a couple good runs". He went back to buy 4 more for the rest of the vans. $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter Jul 24 at 7:56
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Two curves meet ...

The first generation devices are extremely expensive. The second generation is merely expensive. More specialist doctors are available to operate them, the market grows and gets economies of scale, and so on. (The last statement assumes market mechanisms are in effect, which may not be the case in many settings.)

At the same time, the economy changes to one where workers are in higher demand. An aging society, a moral decision not to use robots in the care of the elderly, brave new opportunities (in space?) for the young.

Where those curves meet, it becomes economically reasonable for somebody to subsidize a young, professional woman to use the artificial womb and drop out of the workforce for a year per child and not two years -- that assumes good childcare facilities, of course. Employer-funded or taxpayer-funded health plans would offer the artificial womb once or twice per lifetime as part of their benefits package. Who pays depends on the traditions in your setting. Employers could phase it in gradually, first for top jobs, than for most white-collar workers, etc. Taxpayers would create a massive market instantly, bringing down costs.

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    $\begingroup$ To add to your answer -which, right now, seems the simplest, best one-, there is a fall of price and second wave of innovation that occurs ~25 years later, when patents expire and everyone has access to the tech, that usually facilitates third generation device's affordability. $\endgroup$ – Stormbolter Jul 24 at 7:43
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There are quite a number of areas in which savings can be made to the OP's current artificial womb. Addressing the current requirements:

  1. The ultrasound fetal heartbeat monitor need not be a constant part of each artificial womb. While ultrasound has been shown to be a safe occasional method of scanning a fetus, it is not known what effect constant exposure to ultrasound might have, so it would be better to have one ultrasound unit for each group of artificial wombs, perhaps one for every hundred wombs. While the foetuses may be scanned on a regular basis in order to detect and correct anomalies, a single ultrasound monitor could make the rounds of its wombs in a day or two, enough time to detect the early signs of anomalies.

  2. Implantable blood chemistry monitors are likely to be one of the cheaper devices to be used in an artificial womb setup, though to reduce costs, it may be simpler to install a venous port that can be used to draw blood for frequent but non-continuous monitoring.

  3. Monitoring the placenta can take place at the same time as ultrasound monitoring of the fetus (See point 8 for more details).

  4. Genome sequencing is entirely unnecessary. Specific Genetic tests for most known genetic diseases can be applied at relatively low cost, or if the parent(s) choose, may be omitted altogether.

  5. Big-Data analysis of blood chemistry monitor matched with genome sequencing is also entirely unnecessary except from the point of view of commercialisation of said data for marketing purposes... and I can anticipate that there would be serious privacy implications in collecting and using said data, even with the informed consent of the parent(s), as that data may be used in the future to direct advertising to individuals who are currently still in-utero, who may also come to object to their genetic blueprint being used in such a commercial fashion.

  6. Rapid transplantation of fetus from womb into an artificial womb would only be necessary where a mother desires to off-load an unplanned pregnancy to an artificial womb. Considering that the fetal-maternal blood barrier in humans is only a single cell thick, this is a particularly difficult thing to achieve, requiring amongst other things, pre-duplication of the mother's uterus and excision of the placenta from the mother's uterus including a significant layer of uterine wall, and would be surgically equivalent to a uterine ablation, which is a particularly unpleasant procedure. In the absence of a pre-grown cloned uterus, it would take months to grow one. It is far easier to create a planned pregnancy from samples of the parents eggs and sperm, fertilising in-vitro, and depositing the zygote directly in the artificial womb.

  7. Duplication of maternal hormones would be relatively inexpensive. No duplication of fetal hormones is necessary - the fetus should do this for itself.

  8. There is no need to create an artificial placenta as the placenta is derived from the fetus, not the mother. As long as the artificial womb contains a genetically human uterus hooked up to a supply of nutrients and hormones, and whatever other parts are required to eliminate wastes, simply introducing a viable zygote to the uterus at the correct stage of its menstrual cycle should result in implantation and embryo growth.

So, eliminating the unnecessary requirements from the original list should reduce the costs involved significantly.

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Most answers so far focus on challenging the premise of the question by claiming it would not be as expensive. I will try to answer the question within the original framework, which assumes that there is a plausible in-universe reason for the technology to be too expensive for the average middle-class worker.

Under that condition, the technology must be subsidized. Possible options are:

  • Health insurance: The healthcare providers figured out that the artificial womb technology is cheaper for them, because it generally leads to fewer costly medical problems for mother and/or child.
  • Employers: Paying the womb for an employee might be cheaper than giving them maternity leave. Especially if the law mandates paid maternity leave on the cost of the employer. But even if the maternity leave is paid by the government or an insurance: Losing a key employee for several months can be really bad for a company.
  • Government: The government might subsidize the artificial wombs as part of their agenda. That agenda might be feminist, but it could also be patriarchic (the technology might enable biological men to have children without the aid of biological women) or even driven by demographic considerations (improving the birth rate of the middle-class).
  • Charities: A couple of very rich (or a lot of moderately rich) individuals might donate wombs for underprivileged people for purely ideological reasons... or for PR reasons... or to exploit some tax loophole.
  • Companies which sell products for babies: As anyone who ever had a baby will confirm to you: This is a very competitive market where lots of companies fight tooth and nail for the consumers attention. And for good reason: Raising a child is expensive! A company might subsidize your womb if you pledge to buy all the diapers, food, clothes and toys for your baby only from them. The deal might even extend to private schools or even private universities. The parent was going to pay for that stuff anyway, so this might look like a quite good deal.

A combination of multiple of these options might drive the cost for artificial wombs far enough down to make them affordable for the middle-class or even the lower class.

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  • $\begingroup$ Maternity leave tends to happen after the pregnancy is over. $\endgroup$ – Muuski Jul 24 at 15:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski In most countries it is common for a mother to spend the last couple month of her pregnancy at home. But interestingly, artificial womb technology might make it possible to keep children in the womb for longer and birth them at a higher development stage. Why? The thing is, newborn humans are born in a very underdeveloped stage compared to the newborns of other mammals. The reason is that if an infant would mature longer, its head would become too big to fit through the birth canal - a side-effect of human evolution optimizing for brainpower. Artificial wombs could fix that tradeoff. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jul 24 at 16:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Muuski It's called the "4th trimester" - the phase of child development where the baby still seems more adapted to living in the womb than living outside of it. A further development stage of artificial womb technology could extend the gestation period from 9 month to 12, which could benefit the child and the parents. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Jul 24 at 16:35
  • $\begingroup$ It is not possible to extend a pregnancy significantly mainly due to the fact that the placenta is aging. At 9 months of pregnancy, it's getting pretty old, by 10 months it will be dying or deceased... and won't be doing its job. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jul 24 at 21:04
  • $\begingroup$ Making the placenta live longer would require genetic engineering which is currently beyond our technical capabilities. As long as we could grow a human uterus in vitro, it isn't inconceivable that we could make an artificial womb right now... or at least in the near future. $\endgroup$ – Monty Wild Jul 24 at 21:06
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The artificial womb's impact on society is one of the things explored in the background of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series. It's definitely a liberatory technology for women, even more so than the washing machine or contraceptives. I can think of a few scenarios:

Amortization

Every technology starts out expensive and gets cheaper over time. The R&D costs only have to be paid once, and tend to be paid back mostly by the first users.

Cost inflation of regular birth

Americans can already face medical bills of tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars for births. If the cost of all the skilled personnel required for a safe normal delivery continues to climb, even a very expensive artificial womb could be cheaper.

Medical tourism

Perhaps another country comes up with a cheaper version, even if it might be less safe. Already happening with some operations.

Strategic resource

Birth rates are already falling in the West. Portugal has the lowest at 1.241 children per woman, way below replacement rate. Some government may decide that the rate has got too low and needs to be brought back up, but they can't afford to take women out of the workforce to have children (and the women don't want to anyway). So they build a National Womb Facility to maintain the supply of children. A literal motherland.

(It's surprising how many national projects for taking care of the populace have been justified by military ends - "We need more soldiers", or "we need better educated and healthier soldiers". The Soviet Union gave out "Mother Heroine" medals to women who had ten or more children, in response to the horrible losses suffered during WW2.)

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I think how cheap the process is would depend on what you define an artificial womb to be.

If you are thinking a large plastic tank with artificially created biological fluids that exactly duplicate what is going on in a mothers body, then it would be pretty expensive.

On the other hand, you could go with an artificial womb cloned from a sample taken from the mother's womb. The sample could be grown into a large collection of cells in a facility then popped into a 3D printer where the cells would be printed into a cheap mass produced artificial womb casing that would contain the blood pump, blood oxidizer, hormone regulator, etc. The point being there wouldn't need to be any customization of the womb casing so you could take advantage of economy of scale to bring down the price. Also, the casing could be made to be reusable by simply removing the old biological material and sanitizing. No need to buy an expensive piece of equipment if you can just rent one for 9 months.

By growing the artificial womb you could eliminate:

  • Cheap genome sequencing

  • Big-Data analysis of blood chemistry monitor matched with genome sequencing

  • Creation of a viable artificial placenta

The baby would create its own hormones so no need to duplicate those, but you might need an implant in the mother to duplicate her hormones and a artificial hormone pump in the womb casing to deliver those to the baby.

A ultrasound fetal heartbeat probe wouldn't be very expensive. The expensive part of that is the specialized computing equipment that goes along with the ultrasound monitor, so I would imagine that you would only need a few monitors in the facility and you could easily swap them between the built in probes in the womb casing.

You would need a implantable device in the mother to monitor her blood chemistry if you wanted to match it, but it could be pretty dumb and could be slaved to a device like a smart phone to process any data and send the signal on, which would save on costs.

Placental monitoring would be cheap since you could literally grow the womb around a fluid port that would allow someone to easily take a placenta sample

As a bonus you could have any additional monitoring of the mother that might benefit the baby be outsourced to a smart phone application. For example, you could pick up the mothers heart beat and voice and have that broadcasted over to the baby in the artificial womb.

Edit: It just occurred to me you wouldn't need a ultrasound monitor at all. Since you would have printed the womb into a casing you could simply add pinhole cameras around where the womb material will be printed and have the baby on video surveillance 24/7 for dirt cheap.

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It cannot in a realistic world such as one we have today.

'Common Citizens' value is based on lifetime earning potential. See any life insurance claim statistics tables to have that validated.

Once the 'Common Citizen' supply is no longer relegated to individual citizen control (parents) then a company can create its own work force without the need to supply market rate compensation...so the value of the 'Common Citizen' becomes depreciated.

If you have controls in place to prevent mass birthing/slavery (which paid employees are on the slavery spectrum as they take less than the true effort of their labor) then a company will make its prime focus getting around that restriction (moving off-shore, law manipulation from inside) as the prime focus of a corp is to maximize shareholder profits....and reducing the cost of labor is a great way to do that.

If you have a world where those 'with' want to keep those 'without' busy so they cannot get involved in a 'free' government, then you will see artificial forces driving the cost of the tech high birthing to keep mothers busy for 9 mos before the 18+ years that follow...who wants do-gooders involved in legislation?...especially legislation allowing corporations to have child custody.

If everything is fair and honest, then mandatory financial work contributions by the mother/father in the birthing stations would be a way to self fund a large proportion of the cost. If you want a child and not have it mess your general body chemistry up, pay some then work some while your child gestates...and by the way, you can make insurance premiums lower for women who have not born a child as there are fewer health risks when using a pod. Tax cut for the improved health status of the mother and ability to stay on the job (up to a number of children as dictated by those in power that understand the effects of overpopulation).... Or possibly only get dependent deduction if it is a 'clean' birth,as it reduces the burden on society.

All depends on your degree of dystopia versus utopia and your definition of both.

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Like all such things, the expensive part is the number of manual steps required. So the answer is to remove the human element with

Automation

The various monitors are reasonably pricy, sure, but any large hospital has dozens of them. Your facility can certainly afford them. And investments in equipment can be amortised over time.

The other steps currently require human involvement though. Most monitoring needs a human specialist to look at scans, or take blood samples, or transfer the fertilised embryo between various solutions, and so on. Much of this is necessary because there is no integrated facility which is able to carry out all the relevant steps.

So, your lower-cost facility needs to be able to do all this in one place. And more than that, it has to be constructed such that every step in the process is capable of automation. Containers for embryos must be standardised. Equipment to take the various scans or to transfer embryos between containers must be able to do this automatically. And the process of assessing scans must be automated so that the "sunny day path" needs no human involvement. Of course people will need to get involved when things go wrong, but the more work goes into this, the less likely it is that people will be needed.

Because a company won't fully trust automation until it's been validated, your facility will end up being more reliable than "fallible" doctors. The small risk associated with amniocentesis and other procedures simply won't exist here. And developmental abnormalities linked to trauma, diet, or just random bad luck will become a thing of the past.

At this point, artificial wombs stop being a rich person's plaything, and become best practise for childbirth. Of course some people will still want natural births. This will be a lifestyle choice - some people will prefer it because they don't like the medicalisation of childbirth, in the same way as some people today choose to give birth at home. Like home birth it will be a choice with a slightly higher risk to mother and child, of course. It may cost more, in the same way that neonatal units today cost more than doing nothing, but if it's best practise then it will be adopted.

For one example of how this could be better, it is entirely possible that we could find babies which spend longer in the "womb" have better outcomes, for similar reasons to why babies which are born prematurely have worse outcomes. The impacts of premature birth are lifelong, covering their ongoing development, health and possibly even educational achievements (evidence currently disputed). If artificial wombs swing this the other way, we could see an epigenetic step-change in human health, intellect, and many other key markers.

The automated nature of this will make it a much "colder" experience though. The system would be set up very much on the lines of Amazon's warehouses, where the fertilised embryo goes in one end of a conveyor belt and a fully-developed foetus comes out the other end after 9 months. There will be monitoring, of course, but it will be a very hands-off setup. Deliberately so, because if the automation is good enough then human involvement can only lead to problems.

Of course, operators will want to avoid this appearing like The Matrix's "Fetus Fields"...

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By making them way less fancy, but using 10 times as many to compensate.

The cheapo version of the artificial womb is just a specially designed single-use plastic bag connected by hoses to various inputs and outputs. The machine that provides those is shared with the other 99 bags on the rack, keeping costs down.

The gametes are fertilised in vitro and sealed into the bag immediately, minimising medical costs - you need lab techs, not surgeons. They grow their own placentas in the usual way, but implanted in a textured patch on the inner wall of the bag.

There's very little monitoring, which increases the mortality rate, but you've got costs down so low it's cheaper to make 10 and lose 9 than to coddle one. Sure, this means it often takes over a year to fill the customer's order, but that's no different from natural birth, where women often miscarry before they even know they're pregnant. You can speed it up by gestating all 10 in parallel, if the customer doesn't mind a small chance of ending up with triplets (or more).

Genetic screening and editing are premium extras, not included in the base price.

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There's an aspect to artificial ways of growing fetuses and that's the absence of the human need for a sense of belonging and socializing. The fetus in a woman's womb is prepared for life with other human beings around it, through the connection with the mother's emotional states and physical processes, unconscious, but registered in the fetus' nervous system nevertheless. I've met people in my life who were affected by the unwelcome pregnancy of their mother, or the fearful state of their mother, who had lost a child recently.

The bonding between a mother and her child, from birth, is an essential part of growing up to be a mature human being as far as it's possible for that person, based on individual characteristics and the way the person is living through circumstances in life, more or less successful.

Human beings, born from artificial wombs, may turn out to be perfect physical bodies, but their mental wiring and absence of emotional responses or empathy, will probably be welcomed by those who intend to create cyborgs, human minions of AI. These creatures will probably begin to show up in our near future, as a sex slave, super soldier or in any function within a hive mind, serving the Grand Wizards of Oz on invisible strings by means of nanotechnology, implants and tracking devices. Many of us are well underway to answer that call when living in screens many hours of our days. Smart technology contains a dark and hidden purpose. It's called transhumanism. Remember George Orwell's book 1984? There's no right or wrong choice, just consequences that are worthwhile to look into, preferably before making our choice.

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The privilege of wealthy people, able to pay for such an artificial pregnancy, is similar to a Trojan horse I believe. For these people will lose the capacity to continue their bloodline in the way their ancestors did. Such a generation may end up living in a separate conclave, removed from human-born-from-human society, due to their inability to socialize with it. It'll appear as a different species, similar to the character called "automaton" in the movie Metropolis.

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I fail to see how artificial wombs can compete with natural ones. The artificial wombs need a whole industrial, high-tech, society to make and mantain them. The natural needs only rice, water and some meat in the sundays. You will never compete with the natural ones and artificial wombs will always be a luxury item.

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    $\begingroup$ Are you arguing that the wombs will remain a luxury on a global scale, i.e. rich countries will have them but poor countries won't? $\endgroup$ – MJ713 Jul 24 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ Neither. Only the rich and the show-off will use them. $\endgroup$ – Geronimo Jul 24 at 17:45
  • $\begingroup$ This doesn't really seem to answer the question. The question is "How can it be made affordable?", not "Will it become affordable if nothing extra is done?" Unless you are saying that the wombs can never become affordable, in spite of government interventions, advances in technology, etc. $\endgroup$ – MJ713 Jul 24 at 18:36

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