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Can AI Make People Want to Have Children?

Deseret News

August 1, 2023

Self-help gurus love to tell people to visualize their goals. Tony Robbins says, “Starting your day without visualizing your goal is like starting your day without breakfast.” In this space, it’s not just about figuring out where you’re going, but actually picturing your future self — how that person will feel, what that person might do. So it’s no surprise that a new app is making a big splash. 

According to The Wall Street Journal, Remini, which recently became the most popular free app in the Apple store, “lets users generate images of themselves in wedding dresses or pregnant in maternity wear. Remini will even serve up family portraits showing the user with AI-generated babies.”

In principle, of course, people have been imagining their future families for hundreds of years, if not since the beginning of history. They didn’t need artificial intelligence. Children played dress-up, they pretended to get married, they played with dolls. And since most everyone followed the same path, it was easy to imagine what the next step would be. 

But in the past half century, things changed. No longer is the course of a woman’s life (or a man’s) so obvious. She can have a career first and then a family, or a family first and then a career. Many people think it’s fine for a woman to have children first and then get married — or to forgo children or marriage altogether. And at some point, she may wonder in which direction she should head. As with many things in modern life, having too many options has resulted in a lot of unhappiness.

The Journal’s reporter talked to Ziyah Brown, a 35-year-old makeup artist in Cincinnati, who “has spent most of the past decade focusing on her small business and preparing to buy her dream home: a five-bedroom house she closed on in November.”

Brown said that when she was in her 20s, she was too busy to focus on kids. She became an aunt, but started to assume that she wouldn’t have kids herself. “On Tuesday, those feelings changed when she stumbled across Remini,” the Journal article said. “The app was like a magic mirror showing a future self: a photo of her pregnant, plus a string of group portraits where she has children all bearing a striking family resemblance.”

Brown told the Journal, “Feelings of motherhood rushed over me … I was like, ‘Wow, now I can actually see myself being there at some point.’”

I have no idea how common this experience is. I’m sure there is something that is particularly heart-tugging about seeing an image of a child whose face looks like yours. Or seeing yourself with a pregnant belly. Maybe the picture is only the beginning. Allowing yourself the freedom to imagine marriage and children, when you haven’t thought seriously about this before, may prompt musings about what the child would be like or how your life could be different with a family. Maybe you could send the pictures to others and hear your parents or siblings coo over them.

Because marriage requires finding the right person, however, this path seems more murky than a career, where one step can lead to another.

Finding a romantic partner, at least in the popular imagination, seems to be a matter of luck more than anything else. But if Remini can make people more open to the possibility of finding a partner, and results in them going on dates, asking friends to set them up or going to social occasions with other single people, then one could imagine a real impact from the app.

The image of future children also might be helpful in terms of getting people to remember the importance of family to happiness. Even parents of adult children are often reluctant to mention grandchildren, lest they seem to be exerting pressure. Maybe Remini can help. Or maybe Remini could encourage couples who are already together to think more about marriage and children, having seen how the genetic material from both partners might combine. 

Of course, we don’t want people to get the wrong impression. Children are not just slightly altered replicas of the people who produce them. Thinking about children that way could exacerbate the problem of parents whose self-image is so wrapped up in their children that they won’t let their kids function independently. Children aren’t props for Instagram, and envisioning them as such may cause people to have unrealistic expectations about what real family life is like.

But with falling birth rates affecting not just individuals, but nations, conversations are taking place across the world about how to reverse this trend.

Will all this visualization lead anywhere? 

“When you can vividly imagine your future self, you start to care more about it,” said Cristina Atance, a professor of psychology at the University of Ottawa, told the Journal. But it “can lead you to become complacent and not think about the steps it takes to make it happen.”

Indeed, a lot of the visualization talk spouted by the self-help gurus amounts to nonsense, like the ever popular “Law of Attraction.”

Robbins says, “When learning how to visualize your goals and dreams, it’s vital that you picture them already being accomplished. You’ve purchased the new car, finished the novel or earned a promotion at work.” Only then, he says, will your dreams come true.

But life is not a Disney movie. Getting married and having a family requires more than wishing really hard.

About the Author

Naomi Schaefer Riley