Chinese scientists just created an “AI Nanny” to look after babies in an artificial womb

An artificial womb for fetuses to safely grow in, and a robotic nanny to monitor and take care of them.

Parents of the future rejoice! Scientists in China have developed an AI nanny that they say could one day take care of human fetuses in a lab. Researchers in Suzhou, China, claims to have created a system that can monitor and care for embryos as they grow into fetuses while growing inside an artificial womb, The South China Morning Post reports.

The robotic nanny is already reportedly caring for a number of animal embryos. Experimentation on human embryos, however, is still forbidden under international law, as the newspaper points out. The team published their findings in the Journal of Biomedical Engineering last month.

In the paper, they detail an “online monitoring system” designed for the “long-term culture of embryos.” The system could theoretically allow parents to grow a baby in a lab, thereby eliminating the need for a human to carry a child. The researchers go as far as to say that this system would be safer than traditional childbearing.

It is also able to rank embryos by their development potential, according to the South China Morning Post, who first reported on the device. A research paper published in the Journal of Biomedical Engineering described how the robotic nanny has already been used to nurture animal embryos within an artificial womb environment.

“There are still many unsolved mysteries about the physiology of typical human embryonic development,” the paper stated, adding that the technology would “not only help further understand the origin of life and embryonic development of humans but also provide a theoretical basis for solving birth defects and other major reproductive health problems.”

According to the paper, the system allows the fetus to grow more safely and efficiently than it does within the natural setting of a woman’s womb. The technology is evocative of the mechanical nanny described in the short story Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny from the acclaimed 2019 collection Exhalation by Ted Chiang.

In the story, a child raised exclusively by an automatic nanny grows up to be incapable of interacting with other humans. While the Chinese researchers have proved that the technology could be used safely for the development of embryos, there are still legal obstacles in place that would prevent it from being used on human foetuses beyond two weeks of development.