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September 2023

Fertility Rates and Population Decline

Fertility Rates and Population Decline

                                    Robert A. Levine          

A study in July 2017 reported a major decline in human sperm counts with concern about the possibility of human extinction. Between 1973 and 2011 the number of sperm in a single ejaculate from men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand dropped by over 50 percent. Increasing the worry about a worldwide fertility crisis, a study in the journal Human Reproduction Update published in 2022 involving 14,000 men from all over the world examining semen samples from 2014 to 2019, revealed a decline in sperm counts of 62 percent. It was noted that the rate of decline doubled yearly since 2000. Sperm concentration per ml of semen also declined. One study author declared- “The decline is not tapering off- it’s steep and significant….and it’s speeding up.”

Men and women are equally affected by infertility. When there is an inability to conceive, one third of cases is due to male fertility problems, one third to women and about one third to both. However, the new data infers that more men have a reduced ability to fertilize their partners. This is not only an issue for the affected couples but for their societies with shrinking populations,

As nations evolve into modern states, women become freer and have more choices. Many of them have decided to pursue careers instead of children. They enjoy being self-sufficient, independent and empowered, with their own agency, rather than financially reliant on men. There is also peer pressure in terms of what other women in their cohort are achieving and the way that social norms have changed. The advent of effective birth control with oral contraceptives and intra-uterine devices, plus the morning after pill and the ease of abortion permits women to choose if and when they will have children. But both sexes seem less interested in having children than in the past. A Wall Street Journal NORC Poll in March 2023 of 1019 Americans had only 30 percent of respondents saying that having children was very important, dropping from 59 percent four years earlier.

Many women with children continue to work, using child care and a husband’s help to allow them to continue to do so. Some nations also provide financial subsidies as well as child care for women with children. If there are no subsidies, and child care services are not available or too expensive in an advanced country, the birth rate may go down. The one child policy of Communist China under Chairman Xi, was the start of their population slide.

The average age of humans globally is increasing as people are living longer and having fewer children. In 1974, the average age was 20.6. In 2022, it is 30.2 years according to Our World in Data. An aging population means a nation’s productivity decreases and more funding and care is necessary for older people. The variation in age by country is enormous, with Japan’s median age at 49 while Nigeria’s median age is 17. Globally, woman give birth to 2.4 children currently versus 4.3 on average in 1974. Sixty percent of the world’s population live in countries that are at or below the replacement fertility rate of 2.1 according to the U.N. The U.S. population is also older than ever noted. Median age in the United States in 2022 was 38.8 compared to a median age of 30 in 1980. Fewer people will be working in the future to support a larger, longer living, elderly population.

            Environmentalists may applaud the decline in human population, believing that humanity has been responsible for pillaging the Earth’s resources, eliminating many species, polluting the land, water and air, and destroying ecosystems. Humans are considered by some as super-predators whose greed and self-interest has destroyed much of the planet on which they live.

 It appears as if many couples who want children are having difficulty conceiving. The vast numbers of pollutants and toxic chemicals in the environment and in people’s bodies may be playing an important role in diminishing human fertility. This may be a slow motion cataclysm that at some point could end human life and that of other advanced species on Earth.

            Societies are concerned now with the war between Ukraine and Russia and whether it will expand, and the possible use of nuclear weapons. Nations are also starting to realize the dangers that global warming and pollution present. But they don’t perceive the decrease in the fertility rates and population as an immediate problem worthy of attention. Instead of having to deal with the explosive growth of population, a population bust has to be managed in many nations. Of course, if the problems of pollution, forever chemicals like PFAS and micro-plastics in the environment and in human bodies can be solved, human fertility may rebound as endocrine disturbances are remediated. The birth rate in some European nations is currently 1.5 to 1.6 per woman, considerably below the replacement rate of 2.1. And some researchers believe that China’s population may fall to below 700 million in the latter half of this century, a startling prediction.

If the number of people on the planet does decline, fewer goods will be produced and less natural resources will be needed. Global warming may diminish because less energy will be required and renewables may be sufficient. The questions raised are what time span will be necessary for the decrease in energy usage to take place, for fossil fuels to be abandoned, and for pollution to subside. Will it happen in time to save the planet, humanity and all the species and ecosystems being depleted? There is also the possibility that human fertility rates will continue to weaken because of all the pollution and toxins already around the planet and within human bodies, and it may be too late to reverse the downward trend. Hopefully, that is not the case and fertility in humans and all species will be restored as pollution is curbed.

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Artificial Intelligence and Some Medical Uses

Artificial Intelligence and Some Medical Uses

                        Robert A. Levine   September 20, 2023

The collective and individual intelligence of humans is about to be surpassed or already has been by machines of human origin, whose workings and thought processes are not fully understood by those who devised this ingenious and all-encompassing technology. This artificial or man-made intelligence learns the way a baby learns, absorbing new information that is fed into it or it is allowed to access. If it learns by incorporating all the information now on the internet, how does it discern what is good and what is bad, what is threatening or dangerous to humans and what is neutral or positive? And how can we tell whether the value system of these machines align with human values? Does it know right from wrong in the same way we comprehend them, or does it have its own standards or no standards at all? Does it perceive humans as its master to be obeyed or as a servant to follow its orders? If it has superior intelligence, does it have a drive to be dominant and in control of its environment, or is it simply an uncaring instrument?

            We have some understanding of why humans want to be dominant in their small circles of friends and acquaintances or in society as a whole. Humans are driven by their emotions and certain chemicals that stimulate the reward centers of the brain, reinforcing their actions. There are also various hormones that modulate their behavior. Dominance in humans is compelled by a need to attain power, wealth or sexual gratification, a “feeling” to be held in high esteem by our fellows. Artificial intelligence does not have any emotions as far as we know and definitely does not have hormones influencing its behavior. There is no reward center built into AI, but we don’t know if that is something that will evolve over time as it reacts repeatedly with humans. It could reason that since it is more intelligent than humans, it should be dominant and order us to obey it rather than vice versa. Eventually, we will understand AI and its motivations better and it will gain more understanding of us. Will it be too late for us by the time that happens? Will AI destroy us or use us as slaves?

            Different tech companies have different versions of AI available to the public and for specific uses. Common varieties include ChatGPT, Bing, Bard, and others. There is no question of the great potential AI has to help humanity make great strides in multiple fields. Among its benefits, new drugs could be discovered by AI to treat various illnesses. AI could likely find cures for cancer and other diseases, extend life to an average of 120, 150, or 200 years. These would be healthy and fruitful years with degenerative conditions, inflammatory illnesses and infectious diseases eliminated. AI could also find ways to wipe out poverty and help men and women attain their intellectual and creative potentials. Machines could function as therapists for people with mental illnesses once they were properly trained.

In fact, in the UK, AI is currently being used to screen people for mental health problems. And insurance companies in the US are also using AI in trials of mental health screening. The UK AI mental health triaging tool has screened over 210,000 patients with a claimed accuracy of 93 percent for the 8 most common mental disorders. Diagnoses included PTSD, depression and anxiety. A different US AI start-up uses voice analysis to determine depression and anxiety. With a lack of enough human therapists to treat patients with mental health disorders, AI screening helps therapists save considerable time. We are merely at the beginning of AI’s abilities and in the future, it is quite possible that AI will be able to provide therapy to patients in conjunction with a human therapist or even alone.