How can we raise babies and have them survive/thrive, assuming:

  • They are conceived/gestated/and raised completely by bio/mechanical means
  • in a spaceship/submarine (no contact with the outside world)
  • without other humans in the contained environment or humanoid robots
  • breeding/growing babies could potentially be done matrix-style, in goo pods that provide cleaning, feeding, etc

The scenario would be something like a sleeper ship loaded with embryos that could colonize a planet....having the subjects be conceived from embryo in the ship, deploying the adult when ready.

I'm not asking about particular technical issues like immunity/nutrition/physical health, but more along the lines of the psychological/educational issues of raising children. Ignoring (up to a point) the absolute first-world wellbeing of the children, is this even possible with humans?

  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I said robots but you said no robots. $\endgroup$ – DPT Sep 14 '17 at 16:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can you clarify the goal. A high yield of living apes decades after snatching newborns (or embryos if you have the tech to let them develop)? Or do you want them to be useful for something? Have a language, or skills or anything? Also what counts and "how little we can do" do you mean minimal computer power or robot intervention too or just without human oversight? $\endgroup$ – user25818 Sep 14 '17 at 16:59
  • $\begingroup$ Are you going to colonize a ship with a single adult human? Or will these children meet each other as they grow up on the ship? $\endgroup$ – Samuel Sep 15 '17 at 20:39

Matrix-style human farms are possible if your main goal is to grow human bodies. However, if you are looking into producing a functional society it will not work.

Deprivation in childhood leads to psychological and physiological problems. Apparently, it may lead even to epigenetic changes. Without a proper caregiver cognitive, motor, language, and socioemotional development slows down. The majority of children who experienced deprivation and neglect in early childhood cannot fully compensate for it and demonstrate a wide variety of psychological and social problems. In extreme cases, children are unable to become human in a social sense.

Children need a lot of stimulation for proper development. If you want to raise them on a ship, you need to provide them with a good learning environment (lots of things to see, to touch, to explore, and to do) and emotional care. Perhaps, these are more important than fully satisfying physical needs.

You will also need something that can provide feedback to children in the same manner as parents do. Even educational programmes were shown to delay language acquisition. They also do not help with cognitive development if not mediated by parents. Educational TV content becomes beneficial only after a child is about 3 years old with sufficiently developed speech.

Children also need role models if you are striving for a functional society. It is not possible to develop social skills without observing real-life human interactions and participating in them. Educational programmes cannot replace it. Other children are also incapable of fulfilling roles of grownups because they themselves lack social skills.

If you want to have fully-functional adults, you will have to have either other humans or android nannies programmed to resemble humans as much as possible. Otherwise, you will end up with a bunch of feral children incapable of ever joining any human society.

  • $\begingroup$ Very interesting. But let's say these were simulated similarly to the Matrix example. It could fill all gaps you mention, in a sort of virtual way? $\endgroup$ – JoséNunoFerreira Sep 15 '17 at 15:49
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    $\begingroup$ I do not think that would be possible. I thought about this as well, but the research shows that cognitive and motor development at early stages are connected. Moreover, a delay in the development of fine motor skills is associated with an overall delayed development. According to recent psychological studies, children need to explore the world actively with their bodies to develop cognitively, socially, and emotionally. Simulations might just not be enough. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 16 '17 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ We do not know exactly how brain development and motor development work. Virtual reality might be enough if everything else is driven by the brain and brain only. However, somehow I doubt it. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 16 '17 at 6:42
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    $\begingroup$ Well, we are not born with fully developed brains. It takes about 20 years for the major neutron frameworks to achieve maturity. There is a very high possibility that body movements stimulate brain and trigger development of specific brain regions, which are crucial for later stages. In this case, if a child cannot move brain does not get necessary stimulation. Perhaps if you can find a way to stimulate brain, muscles, and nerves in such a way that a child has a total illusion of control (i.e. fine motor skills are replicated fully on all levels)... I am not an expert here. $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 18 '17 at 12:08
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    $\begingroup$ You need to consider a possibility of mutiny if you succeed with your plan of growing humans in vats. At least 10% will be very angry once they discover that their lives were a simulated lie. Some of them will be very depressed. You can also expect PTSDs... What's the reason for growing people in such a manner? Is it a hostile AI or an attempt of an interstellar colonisation? $\endgroup$ – Olga Sep 18 '17 at 12:12

First off: There is a case of a Russian family surviving with no human contact for 40 years, including raising some children. Of course, that is on Earth which is (all things considered) a fairly habitable environment.

Where things become interesting is if the environment isn't normal. For example, growing up in a very small environment would likely result in the development of several phobias upon being exposed to the rest of the world. Similarly, if "outside" is space or water, the concept of walking around in a field of grass would be incredibly daunting. And then there's the physical aspect of, particularly, space. A human being can jump at about three meters per second (a 40cm jump). In a small confined environment, you'll find yourself heading head-first for the opposite wall [ceiling?] at three meters per second. For an adult, we can control ourselves so long as we don't get a shock. But a child, assuming they don't have weaker muscles or simply grow up used to the environment will be a hazard to themselves. I can't imagine an eight-year-old not enjoying a bit of rough and tumble, and in space that will be very dangerous.

I am of the opinion that a young child is very very adaptable. While in the modern age we note that children after earthquakes get PTSD, in my opinion this is a survival mechanism. I suspect that even if we neglected a lot of things in the upbringing of our children (after all, robot's can't provide love and probably lack in emotional support), the only result will be that the child would be perceived as "strange" in modern society. Take them back to the middle ages when population groups were a lot smaller and they'd probably fit in better. Anything not mirroring current society will result in a child that is not 'normal' by current societies standards. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. Developing a lot of 'loners' may be useful if they're living on a space station that only houses 100 people.

  • $\begingroup$ It seems logical that children raised like this will be strange by modern society standards...but yes, as you mention, this isn't bad per se. $\endgroup$ – JoséNunoFerreira Sep 15 '17 at 15:53

First, you need artificial wombs and all that entails.

Then, you need to mechanically take care of the newborns as they grow. that includes feeding and waste disposal. It would require grasping appendages that have soft ends to prevent damage.

Since there are no humanoid robots (which would be an extremely good addition), you need screens where they can display human faces to show emotions to teach the children how to display them. It also helps them learn language since they can key emotions to the simpler words.

After infancy, they would need less physical care and more emotional or psychological care.

Without the psychological care, you may end up with a Lord of the Flies scenario.


Much depends on environment (of course).

Even without humanoid robots it is needed a good deal of A.I. to cope with children needs, even at basic subsistence level.

If the group is relatively large it would be possible to have them grow relatively mentally sane by complementing their innate grouping instincts with audiovisual interactions.

Requirement is system must be able of self-cleaning and self-repairing. This implies also to be able to control and reach any part of the environment.

Other important factor is population density. Being crammed too many in a too restricted space is a good way to lose sanity even for normally-born and well balanced adults. Virtual reality can provide some form of relief, but is not a perfect solution.

This aspect is particularly important as, after a "bootstrapping" phase, older children can take care of younger ones. This has been the normal menage in many (even relatively modern) societies where women had many children and men were busy far from home; they had little interaction with the small ones beside breast-feeding as they were cared for by older brothers and cousins who were also in charge of their "education"; adults provided guidance, checked results and decided when some child was ready to do a "man's work". The main interaction the children had was with elderly people, unfit to do real work, and thus relegated to supervise the house (and the children). This "grandparently" supervision could be done by A.I. on screen or in V.R.

Details are important. What do you have in mind as "environment"?

  • $\begingroup$ By environment, I mean a sort of sleeper ship / submarine completely insulated from the outside world, with the purpose of producing adult humans for colonizing a planet $\endgroup$ – JoséNunoFerreira Sep 18 '17 at 10:43
  • $\begingroup$ Sorry, I was not clear. That much I understood. Question was about projected capabilities of "environment"; i.e.: power of commanding A.I. (ow much can it adapt to the unexpected? can it generate VRs "on demand"?), manipulation capabilities (can it reach "anywhere"? Is it delicate enough to change diapers?) , control capabilities (are there "blind spots?). In general: what is it's purpose? From your comment it seems you want to use this as a replacement for "frozen sleep" to setup a colony in a distant somewhere; in that case other problems may arise; please elaborate. I might update answer. $\endgroup$ – ZioByte Sep 20 '17 at 8:58

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