A recent advance in the ability to take immature female eggs to maturity in the petri dish prompted a deeper question regarding the connection of this advance to a plausible system for artificial wombs and ectogenesis of human beings and other organisms at some point in the future.
The advantages of such a system for research should be clear, Scientists would be able to cultivate and grow new embryos without the need of an actual living parent as as surrogate. A range of experiments focused on understanding the development of natal diseases could be investigated in real time through a highly monitored and controlled birth environment on a continuous basis.
In the social realm, a commercialized process for growing human embryos outside of a natural womb would allow women to forgo the risks of pregnancy entirely, freeing them from a natural source of social imbalance that has dogged their kinds since the dawn of our species.
However a possible negative aspect to such development must be described that pertains to the reality that a baby in a mothers womb is more than just being contained in a perfectly silent and perfectly nurturing environment. We know that the mothers emotional state in ways yet unknown imprints epigenetically on a developing fetus. How would the development of a developing fetus mind be imprinted if not by this process? How important is this imprinting for non pathological development of that fetus into a baby and then into a functioning human outside of the artificial womb?
The role of Salience in guiding the early and critical forming of the mind as the brain is literally knit together from the earliest few months of a pregnancy is an important factor in guiding the development of that mind toward portions of the cognitive landscape that have empathetic similarity to that of other human beings.
I've touched on the importance of salience toward the building of the baby mind in several posts here and here. Essentially the weaving of the mind happens through the body, the evolution of a fertilized egg through to a born baby involves experience at the same time it involves development...the two can not be separated. Any theory that purports to generate artificial minds must take this into account in order to ground those minds to the embodied contexts that we (and they if they are to inhabit physical bodies) will experience.
To avoid this step I feel is to invite pathological development...which we don't want. The Salience theory of dynamic cognition I proposed provides the explanation for why such low level autonomic drivers are important and if it is a successful model of the biological process of development of mind from developing body then an ectouteran pregnancy must attempt to apply these factors to similarly avoid pathology.
Mothers perform a host of emotionally nurturing actions that directly encode into the developing minds of their babies beyond the injection of epigenetic factors, for one mothers talk and sing to their babies in the womb. It's possible to simulate this of course via artifical means having the developing babies in the womb subject to vocal preening ....this may mitigate against the factor of the loss of a true mother...but the somatosensory experience of being within a womb within the belly of a mother who is moving and shifting around is another experience that may be critical to having the babies brain form the correct low level somatosensory mappings. We simply don't know how a child incubated in an artificial womb that never moves will be cognitively rooted in a way very foreign from a natural uternal born child.
I think it is critically important that as we move toward creating technology that can perform this task that we simulate every aspect of the live environment in order to encode the environmental salience factors that help guide the critical early weaving of the brain into the mind. Ectosalience in a future where most women chose not to live birth their children in order to retain their physical state or avoid health risks may otherwise give rise to a generation of humans with a detached cognitive average dynamic from ever one else which could emerge to be a source of social conflict.