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Artificial Wombs Could Outlaw Abortion

Re-post of an old paper from 10 years ago…

In February of 2002, scientists at Cornell University’s Center for Reproductive Medicine and Infertility claimed their first successes in artificial womb research. This technology has been hailed as a breakthrough that could greatly empower childless individuals and couples, allowing them to bear children without the assistance of a surrogate mother. Unwittingly, it could also spell doom for abortion rights in the United States.
Dr. Hung-Ching Liu and her team were able to create the artificial womb by cultivating endometrial cells on an artificial biodegradable scaffolding. Spurred to multiply with heavy doses of growth hormones and estrogen, the cells took the shape of the scaffolding, modeling themselves into an artificial uterus.
Liu then implanted embryos left over from in-vitro fertilization programs. The embryos attached themselves to the walls of the engineered tissue and began to settle in normally. Although the experiments were halted after six days, Liu hopes to replicate the tests for fourteen days, long enough for the embryos to put down roots and veins, and possibly develop a primitive placenta.
Although Liu’s human experiments are limited to two weeks by IVF legislation, she plans to develop this technology using mice and dogs embryos. If successful, she plans to ask permission to extend her human experiments beyond the fourteen day limit.
Liu is not alone in her quest. While she seeks to grow a baby from scratch, Dr. Yoshinori Kuwabara at Juntendo University in Tokyo wants to assist women who miscarry or have very premature births. His team was successful in removing goat fetuses from the womb and keeping them alive and growing in a tank of amniotic fluid, using artificial umbilical cords to deliver nutrients and deliver waste.
Both scientists are confident that technologies capable of bringing a baby to term outside of the mother will be a reality in a matter of years. In an unforeseen twist, these seemingly empowering technologies will, under current Constitutional law, provide States almost unfettered authority to ban abortion throughout pregnancy.
Prior to Roe v. Wade, there was no recognized Constitutional right to an abortion. In 1973, the Roe court recognized that the Due Process Clause of the 14th amendment to the Constitution gave women certain privacy rights with regard to abortions. As delineated in Roe and affirmed in the 1992 Casey decision, prior to fetal viability, a woman has a right to obtain an abortion without undue interference from the state. After viability, the State’s interest in the life of the unborn child permits restrictions or prohibitions on abortion so long as the law contains an ‘escape clause’ where the life or health of the mother is in jeopardy. Currently 40 states restrict or prohibit post-viability abortions.
The Roe Court further defined legal viability as the time where the fetus is “potentially able to live outside the mother’s womb, albeit with artificial aid.” Therein lies the looming conflict. Thanks to rapid advances in the survivability of preemies, viability has crept from 28 weeks at the time of the Roe decision to approximately 20 weeks today. Artificial womb technology, if successful, will catapult viability all the way back to the date of conception and will allow states to restrict or prohibit abortions throughout pregnancy.
There are two possible scenarios for the technology. The first, called the extraction scenario, is the most damaging to a woman’s right to an abortion. In this situation, researchers perfect methods to successfully extract a fetus from the mother, implant it in an artificial womb and raise it to term. Under this scenario, the date of viability outside the womb would be the date of conception. Following a strict reading of Roe, States would gain an unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion from the moment of the first cell division.
More ambiguous is the implantation scenario. Here, physicians are not able to extract a fetus from the womb and transplant it, but are able to successfully grow an embryo into a baby when it is initially implanted in an artificial womb. Thus, the date of viability for an implanted fetus is conception, but the date of viability for a conventional child is still limited by medical science’s ability to care for a premature birth.
How the Supreme Court would decide on the implantation scenario is totally unpredictable and could depend on the political leanings of the Court at the time a decision is handed down. Some scholars argue that the Court would split abortion law into two categories, one for implanted fetuses, which would be protected completely, and one for normal pregnancies, which would be subject to unchanged Roe style pre- and post-viability determinations.
Others believe that the Court, especially a conservatively minded one, would interpret successful implantation as evidence that viability exists at conception. In such a situation, traditional mothers would have no right to an abortion, even though their fetus could not be transplanted to an artificial womb.
Still another more radical view envisions the Supreme Court developing an entirely new treatment for abortion law not predicated on Roe v. Wade. An activist court might follow the suggestion of the plurality in Casey and determine that the right to an abortion is so fundamental to economic and social developments that it must be preserved. But this would require a remarkable deviation from the Constitutional framework of viability that the Court has already committed itself to.
One can only marvel at the ironies that would reveal themselves if (when!) artificial womb technologies become reality. Anti-abortion conservatives, long vilifying Roe and pressing for its abandonment, would suddenly find merit in its viability framework, as it would give states almost unfettered ability to restrict or prohibit abortion. Pro-choice liberals, long claiming abortion rights victory based on the Roe decisions, would find the structure of their very savior encasing them in a constitutional cage of their own making.
The ironies extend beyond constitutional arenas and into social and political spheres. Abortion foes who have fought embryonic research as murder are faced with the prospect that the scientific research they oppose could be their savior. The embryos sacrificed today to perfect this technology may in fact save many times their number later on as artificial wombs enable states to prohibit abortions. And feminists, who might see artificial wombs as a boon to women too busy with their careers to worry about nine months of inconvenient pregnancy, may find that the same liberating technology results in a significant curtailment of their Constitutional right to abortion.
Unintended consequences are the inevitable children of all technological advances. As science delivers this precocious technology to term, the Supreme Court, and the country at large, may find itself wishing it had never met the screaming brat known as the artificial womb.

Pakistan’s largest province tries innovative technology-driven initiative to tackle corruption – The Washington Post

Pakistan’s largest province tries innovative technology-driven initiative to tackle corruption – The Washington Post.

But the problem isn’t with finding out who corrupt officials are. Typically everyone knows who they are. The problem is prosecuting and convicting them.

The problem with cyber weapons

Eugene Kaspersky explains the problem with cyber-weapons – they’re like cruise missiles you fire at an enemy, but then they can pick them up and fire them back at you.

Social Media and Arms Control Verification

Interesting article last week from Al Jazeera on the conflict between using social media to verify arms control compliance (societal verification) and the preservation of Internet Freedom.


Rose Gottemoller’s remarks, which include some interesting thoughts on using open source IT to solve verification problems are here.

A platform for a new Republican Party

Preface note: I’ve been a registered Republican my entire life

Let’s face it, the current Republican party platform is dead in the water. I capitulated on them in the second Bush administration for a variety of reasons. Last week, my 83 year old father threw in the towel. He is their core constituency. If he is giving up, you know the mantras are dead and need revision.

So what would a platform for a new Republicanism look like? I believe it would contain the basic themes of fiscal conservatism, and social libertarianism. Let’s take a look at these elements and what they would mean policy-wise. This is just a start and will evolve as I introduce new ideas:

Fiscal conservatism:

-Stop favoring tax breaks that reduce revenue to unsustainable levels while at the same time supporting expansion of entitlements (I’m looking at you Prescription Drug Benefit for Seniors.) The party seems to have grasped that entitlements need to shrink, but they seem to be resisting tax increases. It’s simple economic reality – when you’re in debt you don’t cut your income. The old canard that higher taxes leads to lower economic growth is defeated by facts. Remember those? If you doubt it, look it up.

-Focus on smart defense. Spend more on State, USAID, USIP, DoD security cooperation, empowering regional defense organizations, intelligence collection and analysis and anything else that helps prevent wars and keeps us from having to fight them. If you have to use those guns and tanks, your defense policy is failing. We need to be smart.

-Lose our attachment to high price fancy weapons platforms (like the current nuclear powered carrier battle groups,) which present juicy, vulnerable targets and reduce the number of vessels we can deploy. Integrate swarming methodologies into defense planning. Instead of a single carrier battle group, build multiple pocket carrier groups that allow force protection over a larger area and reduce the damage caused by the destruction of any one group. Swarming networks beat hierarchal systems every time.

-Where the private sector can do it, let them. Nowhere is this more apparent than Congress’ insistance that NASA pour billions into the Space Launch System when there are private companies providing more innovative technologies at lower cost. This has the added benefit of developing our private sector space launch capability.

-Doggedly focus on entitlement reform. Trade tax increases for medicare, medicaid and social security reform that will ensure these programs are viable and sustainable. When you’ve fixed them so they aren’t going to bankrupt us, then have the discussion about whether they are in our best interests.

-Embrace immigration. Immigration has been the country’s heart and soul since its founding. Encourage the best and brightest from around the world to come to the US. We can encourage innovation and entrepreneurship by making it as easy as possible for foreigners to immigrate if they possesses advanced degrees, can start businesses or can otherwise make positive contributions to society and our economy.

-Embrace technology and be unswerving advocates for disruptive innovation. New technologies are going to radically reshape the way we think about the world, interact, communicate and relate to each other. Rather than holding on to a 1950’s idyllic worldview, recognize that the only constant in life is change, and move to shape those changes before they happen. (PS a little tip: the 50’s were only great if you were a white male. Women and black folks probably have markedly different opinions.)

-Drop irrational moral objections to free markets for human organs and tissues. Thousands of people die each year for lack of donor organs when there are millions who would gladly sell them. Otherwise you are generating the 21st century version of the illegal drug trade. This market should be highly regulated to ensure proper donor information and consent, and well tracked to ensure donors don’t have long term negative health outcomes. (I bet this one will generate the most emails.)

-Promote free trade agreements and market access everywhere, but acknowledge these agreements disrupt US industries and need to be balanced by programs to assist people in effect industries in transitioning to new jobs. Embrace creative destruction.

-Become the party of entrepreneurs, not just big business. Recognize that big businesses make money through the status quo. Vibrant entrepreneurism threatens established businesses. By aligning with big business, we embrace policies that stifle innovation. We need to balance both.

-Embrace science and technology research as the cornerstone of our future weath. Uniformly reject and ostracize the ignorant fundamentalists who reject science and reason as the cornerstones of human progress and US prosperity. Space is the future of mankind, commit ourselves to space exploration and research. Space in the next two hundres years is analogous to the oceans over the past thousand years. Whomever masters it masters human civilization.

-Embrace and dedicate ourselves to supporting a public education system that evolves to reflect the changing needs of the 21st Century. Quality education for all is an obligation of a free state that is in everyones enlightened self-interest. A well educated citizenry is the best way to ensure full employment, innovation, good health, respect for law and order, civic participation, family values, responsibility and all the other virtues important to classical Republicanism.

-Give up opposition to climate change and fight the scientifically defensible battle. Denying that the climate is changing is the new religious fundamentalism. It’s belief with no connection to reality. The climate is changing – it always does. The only argument is over to what extent humans are contributing to climate change and what, if anything we should do about it. Focus on prudent research that will develop accurate models of human impact, rather than radically reshaping the energy economy to account for possibilities. Focus on innovating our way out of our problems. Wildly promote and support alternative energy entrepreneurs which will develop new industries and preserve US competitiveness in energy markets.

-Immediately cease support for the death penalty. There is no evidence that it provides any disincentive for murder, and it’s much costlier to try a death penalty case than to just lock a murderer up for life. Lock em up and save the money. If you believe, God will sort them out.

Social libertarianism:

-Stop the opposition to gay marriage, now. If two free people want to marry, let them. Don’t use the State to impinge on people’s freedom. Recognize that the concept of ‘family’ takes many many forms beyond the nuclear family. In a custom world, people need relationships that work for them. The important thing is: do the people in the relationship love each other and their children, and are they committed to each other? Those are the values we should promote, regardless of form.

-Transform the war on drugs from one focused on prosecution and interdiction to one focused on prevention and treatment. If people want to use drugs, that’s their right so long as they do it in a way that doesn’t impact others. Reduce the focus on interdiction which doesn’t work and channels huge amounts of money towards narcotrafficants, who threaten state stability.

-Diversity is our strength. Acknowledge, respect and embrace the idea that the United States is not a fixed vision, but evolves and changes based on the changing makeup of its citizens. The US looks like the world, but unlike the world where identity is frequently based on tribal, ethnic or regional affiliations, our identity is based on the shared acceptance of an idea: that we all want a better life and if we work hard and long, we can have one.

-Accept all faiths that preach positive virtues like tolerance, love, compassion and understanding. Focus on confronting those preaching hate and fear within ones own faith rather than allow them to spread their venomous messages. Stop the irrational fear-mongering about Islam and recognize how all religions which preach love can also  have subsets that twist the doctrine to hate.

-Religion and faith are important cornerstones of American life, but not everyone agrees on one Truth. Keep your faith, but keep religion out of politics. This is consistent with the ideal that you can believe in whatever you want, so long as it doesn’t impinge on my life.

-Recognize that people have different views on abortion. Some feel a fetus is a living being at conception, others believe it’s just a mass of undifferentiated cells. Ultimately, if you believe, then God will judge whether it’s right or wrong. Support research that will allow fetuses to survive outside the womb. If a mother chooses to terminate her pregnancy, the fetus would be transfered to an artificial womb for ‘gestation’. This allows the mother to terminate the pregnancy and keep the fetus alive. But if you oppose abortion, you’d better be adopting these kids or supporting organizations that care for them.

-Possession of guns are a Constitutional right, but this right is not absolute. If you think it is absolute, then you should support the local Wal Mart stocking recoilless rifles. Obviously this is lunacy and contrary to Supreme Court rulings. The right is not absolute and rather than blindly rejecting any legislation that would restrict gun sales, inject some rationality into the conversation. Recognize that while guns don’t kill people, people kill people, guns do make it a lot easier to kill people. We need  methods of ensuring that lunatics who want to commit mass shootings have difficulty obtaining weapons. Law enforcement needs to be empowered to find these people and prevent such incidents.

-Support mandatory public service for two years. While this may seem contrary to libertarianism, public service is good for creating a civil society and is important for building a strong, responsible citizenry.

The views expressed here are my own and not necessarily those of the Department of State or the U.S. Government.

Government, crowds and policy development

How can government utilize technology to harness the power of non-state actors to: improve policy development; encourage networked governance; generate networked state/non-state solutions; and align potentially adverse actors with foreign policy goals?’

Government is beginning to confront a major emerging challenge of the 21st Century: the fact that State power is increasingly threatened and undermined by the emergence of non-state actors who, enabled by information technology and growing financial resources, play an increasingly important role in foreign policy. The U.S. Government recognizes the security threat posed by networked black-hat (malicious) non-state actors like Al Qaeda, narcotraficantes, and the Taliban, and is taking steps to counter these threats.

However, the challenge to hierarchal state power posed by white-hat (positive) and grey-hat (ambiguous) actors is still opaque and not fully addressed. White-hat, non-governmental actors are increasingly able to deploy resources and shape events in ways that could be detrimental or directly contrary to official U.S. Government foreign policy. This trend will accelerate as information technology further enables networked organization activities, and non-state actors accumulate endowments which rival foreign assistance budgets. Additionally, networked grey-hat organizations like the hacktivist group Anonymous present serious threats to law and order, but could generate opportunities and alliances if engaged proactively.

The challenge presented by networked non-state actors is correlated with demands for the U.S. Government to develop networked structures to address complex problems necessitating a whole of government approach. George Washington University Professor Fuerth identified the need for foresight-policy integration, networked governance and feedback for applied learning his October 2012 report on Anticipatory Governance. However, these initiatives are heavily challenged by government inertia, the persistent focus on crisis management and the lack of bandwidth by key policymakers to broadly network with internal agencies and external non-state actors.

I am specifically interested in how information technologies – specifically crowdsourcing, social networking and gamification technologies – could be utilized to provide practical and implementable solutions to these pressing problems. Specific topics are:

  • Networked governance is critical to countering and managing networked non-state actors, but policy-makers are resource constrained. Non-governmental organizations have considerable resources which could facilitate intra-governmental and government to NGO collaboration. How can government use crowdsourcing or other technologies to facilitate non-governmental participation in foreign policy development and implementation processes?
  • Non-state actors will have an increasing ability to influence foreign affairs. How can government use crowdsourcing and gamification technologies to broaden the policy-development process, integrate a wider range of inputs from white-hat and grey-hat non-state actors and ensure their efforts complement U.S. government foreign policy?
  • Public diplomacy at US missions overseas is integrating social media into its dialogue, but communications remain hierarchical. How can our foreign missions expand their use of technology to build alliances and networks with non-state actors? Are there opportunities to use technology to provide diplomats additional latitude to network with and promote non-traditional ideas and voices (sacrificing some hierarchal control for greater speed and responsiveness)?

More to come…

Note: ideas and views expressed here are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the State Department or the US Government

Why Apple Wont Acquire Twitter

See my new article on Seeking Alpha: Why Apple Wont Acquire Twitter

Cannibalizing the Apple?

People have been talking a lot about the iPad Mini cannibalizing regular iPad sales. However, as Cult of Mac reports, this effect is far smaller than the rate at which the Mini is cannibalizing PC sales. This isn’t surprising. The Mini provides an attractive price point entry for people who are intrigued by the iPad as a replacement for their PC, but find the full sized model a bit too expensive.

When you think about it, most people probably don’t need anything more than a tablet. My dad has a Mac but for his needs – email, web surfing, basic word processing, photo sharing, etc., a full sized computer is overkill.

Conspiracy theorists might think that Steve Jobs planned this all along. Introduce a full featured tablet to introduce people to the idea, then come out with a Mini that can dominate the low end and brutalize PC sales.

However, the real cannibalization will come when Apple allows cellular phone calls from the iPad and Mini. This is technically possible now, but Apple doesn’t want to kill its iPhone cash cow. Allowing cell calls on the iPads would eliminate the need to buy an iPhone and an iPad. But it’s coming eventually.

Once tablets fully saturate the market, this will happen and it wont be an issue. Because at that point, the cellular phone will be an archaic concept. The iPhone really is a pocket-sized mini-computer that can make cellular calls. The Mini and iPad are larger sized mini-computers. Turn on cellular capability on the iPads, and then you have three sizes of minicomputer. If you want the teeny tiny one, you have to pay more for the miniaturization.

This reveals the real issue with the Mini and Apple’s current pricing structure. The Mini really should have a price point somewhere in between the iPhone and the iPad. But it’s the cheapest of the three, and has fewer features. Apple really needs to re-work their thinking and introduce a full-featured mini with a price point in-between the iPad and iPhone. That will allow it to activate cellular service for both iPad models with a rational pricing structure.

So 2-3 years from now, I fully expect that the iPad Mini will outsell the iPhone…but somewhere along the line we need to drop the ‘phone’ terminology and call them what they are – mini-computers.

Bit the worm

Well, I seem to have started blogging about Apple right around a cyclical peak. Whoops! Bad timing. But despite the crash, the Apple story is intact. Jason Schwartz has a great explanation of why the crash happened here.

iPhone 5 sales numbers disappoint???

This morning Apple announced that it sold only 5m iPhone 5’s in the first three days. And the stock sold off 14 points on the “disappointment.” That’s what I call free money.

Apple disappointed investors because they don’t have enough iPhone 5 supply to meet buyer demand. That is an excellent problem to have. However, an investor acquaintance of mine said that he was disappointed by Apple, noting that they’re planning on rolling out the iPhone 5 in 31 countries by Friday, and they obviously didn’t allocate enough supply to their home country. (This presumes they are withholding some supply for the upcoming Friday launches in 22 countries, which should be correct.) He thinks they underestimated initial demand, but this presumes that they’d even want to fulfill that demand.

My explanation to him is below:

You’re thinking about it from an investor’s standpoint. Sure, a blockbuster # would be great for the stock, but is it what Apple wants? Do they want an iPhone in the hands of everyone who wants one as soon as possible?

No, they don’t. They want shortages, they want users to have to wait in line, they want people pining for that phone which will show up in 3-4 weeks. They want people to have to wait in line or wait at the door for FedEx. Suffering/pining for something binds you to it emotionally. They want the perception that the iPhone is a scarce object that confers high status. They want people to long for their product.

As an example, I live in DC and I was eating at a trendy restaurant last weekend. My girlfriend and I popped in without a reservation so we ate at the bar to avoid the line. As yuppies are wont to do, everyone had their phone out on the table in front of them (lest they miss something for god’s sake.) Towards the end of dinner, I mentioned this to my girlfriend and we both had a chuckle at their inability to unplug. I also noticed while all the phones were iPhones, none of them were iPhone 5s. To see the reaction, I took mine out and started playing with it. Everyone around us noticed, and it was immediately the subject of conversation for at least two groups near us.

What other object can stimulate this admiring/wanting tittering? A Ferrari? The nicest house on the block? Some of those people probably have iPhone 5s on order or are saving up for one, and their hearts were wanting while their brains were dreaming about the day it shows up on their doorstep.

That’s what Apple wants, not putting a phone in the hand of everyone who wants one on the first weekend. That would do nothing for long term sales. The emotional experience is what will help sell 200m iPhone 5s over the life of the product.