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The Pros and Cons of AI: Part Two (Artificial Insemination).

Animal husbandry and humane human medical practice offer up many situations where artificial insemination is a useful and efficient technique. It is often used in horse breeding, for example, to avoid the risk of injury that more natural breeding might engender. There are similarly many cases where a couple wants to get pregnant and the “ordinary” way will not work. This could be due to physical problems with the man, the woman, or both. In some cases, it will even be necessary to use sperm from someone who is not going to be the legal father. Generally, the couple will decide it is more acceptable emotionally if the sperm donor is anonymous and the insemination is not done via intercourse.

But what about all those cases where the couple tries and indeed, succeeds, the “old-fashioned way.” An argument could certainly be made that all intercourse should be replaced with AI (artificial insemination).

First, the old-fashioned way often produces emotional bonding between the partners. (Some even call it “making love.”) No-one has ever provided a convincing quantitative economic analysis of why this is beneficial. It is certainly painful when pair-bonded individuals are split apart by divorce or death. AI would not prevent all pair bonding, but it could help reduce the risk of such bonds being formed.

Second, the old-fashioned way risks the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. Even when pairs are not trying to get pregnant and even when they have the intention of using forms of “protection”, sometimes passion overtakes reason and people, in the heat of the moment, “forget” to use protection. AI provides an opportunity for screening and for greatly reducing the risk of STDs being spread.

Third, the combinations of genes produced by sexual intercourse are random and uncontrolled. While it is currently beyond the state of the art, one can easily imagine that sometime in this century it will possible to “screen” sperm cells and only chose the “best” for AI.

Fourth, traditional sex if often quite expensive in terms of economic costs. Couples will often spend hours engaging in procreational activities than need only take minutes. Beyond that, traditional sex if often accompanied by special dinners, walks on the beach, playing romantic music, and often couples continue to stay together in essentially unproductive activities even after sex such as cuddling and talking.

There are probably additional reasons why AI makes a lot of sense economically and why it is a lot better than the old-fashioned alternative.

Of course, one could take the tack of considering life as something valuable for the experiences themselves and not merely as a means to an end of higher productivity. This seems a dangerously counter-cultural stand to take in modern American society, but in the interest of completeness, and mainly just to prove its absurdity, let us consider for a moment that sex may have some intrinsic and experiential value to the participants.

Suppose that lovers take pleasure in the sights, sounds, smells, feels, and tastes associated with their partners. Imagine that the sexual acts they engage in provide pleasure in and of themselves. There seems to be a great deal of uncertainty about the monetary value of these experiences since the prices charged for artificial versions of these experiences can easily vary by a factor of ten or more. In fact, there have been reports that some people will only engage in sex that is not paid for directly.

So, on the one hand, we have the provable efficiency and effectiveness of AI. On the other hand, we have human experiences whose value is problematic to quantify. The choice seems obvious. Sometime in this century, no doubt, all insemination will be done artificially so that everyone (or at least some very rich people)  can enjoy the great economic benefits that will come about from the increased efficiency and effectiveness of AI as compared with “natural” sex.

As further proof, if it is needed, imagine two island countries alike in every way in terms of climate, natural beauty, current economic opportunity, literacy and so on. In fact, the only way these two islands differ is that on one island (which we shall call AII for Artificial Insemination Isle) all “sex” is limited to AI whilst on the other island (which we shall call NII for Natural Insemination Isle) sex is natural and people can spend as much or as little time as they like doing it. Now, people are given a choice about which island to live on. Certainly, with its greater prospects of economic growth and efficiency, everyone would choose to live on AII while NII would be virtually empty. Readers will recognize that this is essentially the same argument as to why “Artificial Ingestion” should surely replace “Natural Ingestion” — cheaper, faster, more reliable. If readers see any holes in this argument, I’d surely like to be informed of them.

Turing’s Nightmares

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