Life

Babies brought up by machine not so far fetched unless we act to prevent it

It may only be an art installation but a work by artist Stuart Candy that points to a near future where technology rears our children is not just frightening but, given the rapidity of our move to almost total reliance on tech, frighteningly believable, writes Leona O'Neill

NurturePod, an installation by the artist Stuart Candy at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp

IN THIS modern digital age a lot of us parents, whether we like to admit it or not, spend a lot of time online. Whether we are posting photos of our kids on social media, or just scrolling down to see what our friends had for dinner, every chance we get, we are logging in and tuning out to the real world, afraid to miss something.

Walk down any street in any city and you'll see people walking, like zombies, with their faces in their phones. At the park you'll see parents pushing their kids on the swing with one hand and checking Facebook with the other. Parents take cute photos of their kids and post them online, engaging with others about how cute they are while ignoring the child in front of them. In restaurants people don't talk to one another any more; they are taking selfies and posting them online, having full-scale silent online conversations with people while the person sitting in front of them does the same.

I brought the kids to the cinema at the weekend and the woman in front of me with her kids didn't lift her head to watch the film once, but sat totally immersed in the digital world with an annoying and distracting blue screen face for a full hour and a half. Technology is no longer a crutch or a fun pastime – it has become an addiction for many.

Look at how fast technology has developed in recent years. Who would have thought that we could have artificial intelligent devices in our homes that could provide answers to our every whim? Before we know it, we'll have humanised robots in our homes making us tea, washing our dishes and vacuuming our living rooms, hopefully.

Certainly none of us know what the future holds, but artist Stuart Candy has given us his vision of the future of parenting and it is terrifying. He has created the hypothetical NurturePod – 'a programmable para-pod' that raises a baby without requiring the parents to be physically involved.

The artwork, which is on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Belgium has been met with mixed reaction. Some viewers are intrigued, some repulsed, some feel that it's not beyond the realms of possibility that something like this could be introduced and embraced by parents of the future.

Hello Baby, I'm a human

The artwork features a baby – obviously a doll – in a simulated environment, strapped to a seat, wearing futuristic goggles. The NurturePod comes complete with a Brainwave programmable immersion headset for baby as well as hand and foot sensors and a feeding and waste management system. Parents of the future need never lift their baby or pay attention to it. The NurturePod takes care of future baby's every physical and emotional need.

For example, the artist has dreamt up the following features:

:: Sleep and waking

It detects and manages circadian cycles through parent-set parameters. It moves like you do. It keeps baby happy, healthy and rested while supporting your busy lifestyle.

:: Knowledge and creativity

There is an extensive library of expert-produced puzzles and age-appropriate contact for parental curation, responsive to baby's evolving brain patterns. It has premium access to licensed musical content, from Bach to Beyonce and beyond.

:: Body awareness and coordination

Realfeel wearable hand and foot sensors provide in-pod limb presence and promote infant proprioception. Immersive story environments sync to pod movement to fast-track spatial awareness and motor-skill development.

:: Cultural orientation

It has a growing catalouge of 120-plus natural and programming languages for baby to start learning early. Option exposure to iconography and rituals of your chosen belief system.

:: Emotional regulation and personality formation

Simulates face, voice and behavioural prints of loved ones near and far with NurturePod Presence. Lets baby spend time with deceased family avatars. Trusted celebrity role models are available.

:: Social skills

Connects baby to NurturePod social network for interaction with environmental enhanced peers and approved in-network playmates.

NurturePod is certainly a thought-provoking piece. It raises the very real issue that technology is swiftly replacing human emotion and connection. This is a stark glimpse into the future. We can't let it happen. Let's put down the mobile phones and switch off the laptops before it's too late, the machines start taking over and we parents are made redundant.

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