Recently, two baby girls were born through the use of sperm injection robots, marking the first successful cases of robot-assisted conception and the birth of babies worldwide.
The most critical step in in vitro fertilization (IVF) is the injection of sperm into the egg (artificial insemination), which is traditionally performed by qualified reproductive medicine doctors and technicians using ultra-thin hollow needles under a microscope. However, Overture Life, a startup company in Spain, has developed a sperm injection robot that can replace manual labor in this delicate process. Moreover, even individuals without professional backgrounds can use a game controller to perform the process of machine-assisted conception.
This development understandably raises concerns and debates: Is this progress in human reproduction or a form of alienation? Can the quality of IVF babies be ensured?
Such concerns and debates have persisted since the birth of the world’s first test-tube baby, Louise Brown, in 1978. The most vehement criticism came from those who accused Robert Edwards, the “father” of IVF, of being insane and disrupting natural human reproduction. However, it must be acknowledged that the natural human reproductive process is imperfect. Due to various physical reasons and reproductive system diseases, 10% to 15% of people worldwide cannot conceive naturally and require the assistance of artificial reproductive technologies to have offspring. This is the reason for the existence and development of artificial reproduction.
Now, machine-assisted conception can replace manual insemination procedures, potentially reducing the cost of IVF and, more importantly, alleviating the difficulties of the procedure. IVF has already advanced to its third generation, and machine-assisted conception is akin to the second generation of IVF.
Going even further and more extensively into human reproduction is AI-assisted artificial reproduction, which spans across the first to third generations of IVF. Whether it is artificial or machine-assisted conception, the prerequisite is the selection of high-quality sperm. Therefore, researchers have already developed AI software that can identify sperm quality. Through deep learning and algorithms, the software can recognize the “faces” and different motion patterns of sperm, thereby selecting high-quality sperm for artificial or machine-assisted insemination. This is the first step in obtaining good embryos.
The further involvement of AI in human reproduction is using AI software to assess the quality of embryos resulting from artificial insemination. In the future, if machine-assisted conception becomes routine and widespread, quality assessment of post-insemination embryos will also be necessary before they can be transferred into the uterus for gestation.