Document the future5 min read

Back to the future part 2 Sports Almanach

The way anticipation, and science-fiction, are influencing innovation, research and development and even politics.

I recently finished the french book “La pierre jaune” by Geoffrey Le Guilcher. It is a short term anticipation novel that imagines how France would react if a terrorist act was commited to the nuclear waste management facility of La Hague. We follow a group of people who has decided to stay where they live at “La Pierre Jaune” even if the radioactive cloud arrives right above their head. The author is a journalist who has investigated on La Hague. During his investigation, he discovered that in 2001, right after 9/11, a scientist made public a calculation saying that if a plane would crash on La Hague the damage would be 66.7 times more important than the Chernobyl incident. Later the official calculation reduced it to “only” 6.7 times higher. The journalist took this number as a starting point for his novel.

Usually when we talk about science-fiction, we say that it is a mirror of our society. That it doesn’t talk about the future but it talks about the present and how our society could turn if we take some decisions upon others. Today we hear a lot about dystopian stories: 1984, A Brave New World, Black Mirror… And even more since our current pandemic situation. We like those novels because they are really shaking. They put us into a dark world and once we close the book we are relieved it was just a story. They stay in our mind for the fun, because there were fancy cities, new technologies, futuristic props, but not because the depicted world was realistic.

A subsection of the huge science-fiction universe I cherish the most is anticipation and its little nerdy sister: hard-science. The book I started the article with, can be classified as anticipation in my opinion. It takes a specific event, a specific choice and extrapolates on how everything could turn after that. How people, how society would react. To me, it is like running a simulation with a couple of hypotheses to start with. These productions can also be considered as the mirror of project documentation.
Project documentation is about defining a perimeter and map everything that is inside this perimeter. The purpose is to converge the safest and fastest way to the objective.
Whereas anticipation is about taking a black swan event and imagine in the most realistic way what could happen. A black swan is an event with low probability of happening, but when it does have major but badly predictable effects. So this is highly diverging.

To me, those novels are amazing (when not frightening when they describe bad situations) because they could literally happen tomorrow. Here are some of those I liked the most:

  • [Book] La Pierre Jaune : what would happen if there was a terrorist act on La Hague?
  • [Docu-fiction] Year Zero: How Luxembourg disappeared: what would happen to Luxembourg if there was an accident at the near french nuclear power plant?
  • [TV show] Mars: how would the first humans do on Mars?
  • [Books] Red Mars: the first of 3 hard science books about Mars colonization
  • [Book] The Martian: how would survive a man finding himself alone on Mars after the other left him thinking he was dead
  • [TV show] Occupied: what would happen if Russia invaded Norway because it has decided to stop oil and gaz production?

Please, give me in the comment section the anticipation / hard-science fictions you enjoyed!

P_Nation 1/3 from Ante Bellum Films on Vimeo.

Recently the french government has brought the concept of anticipation one step further. Maybe it is because its several-centuries long science-fiction literature (Jules Verne, René Barjavel, …), maybe it is a very innovative move or just a big marketing strategy but since 2019 it has gathered a squad of science-fiction writers and artists to challenge the military strategists: the Red Team.

Its purpose is to come up with multiple scenarios about new kinds of conflicts. They give them to the army so it can update its response strategies. Since the world situation is changing very fast, we often say that reality catches up with fiction. So the government tries new ways to maintain the army on the highest level of readiness.

Most of the Red Team work remains classified, but they published 2 scenarios:

  • P-Nation: what would happen if the climate and tech refugees took shelters on floating ghettos located all over the world on seasides? What if they were so many that they can be identified has a nation? And what if they strike back to the society that repelled them by taking over the Guiana Space Center (or Europe’s Spaceport) in Kourou?
  • Barbaresque 3.0: what would happen if in a near future, everyone has a chip inside its brain just like today we have a smart phone in our pocket, and a terrorist organization succeeds in hacking hundreds of people at once?

The Radio France broadcast “La Méthode Scientifique” has dedicated a full episode to the Red Team: several writers have been interviewed and they talked about some of the other unpublished scenarios.

So what do you think?

Can science-fiction, or rather anticipation be a strategic thing and spread somewhere else than just literature and cinema? Maybe this french government initiative is a communication coup doubled with a waste of public money. Or maybe it is a cheaper and faster way to do innovation? Take Google for example. We can easily say it is a very innovative company. It can literally spend billions to develop cutting-edge science or products: robots, autonomous cars, augmented reality glasses, virtual reality… But Google has also a very famous cemetery of all their dead projects.

So what should we think about such a big corporation that has the best search engine in the world, knowing everything about us but yet it cannot predict which of its projects will fail? THIS is a HUGE waste of money and a HUGE lack of efficiency, isn’t it!

So perhaps just trying to gather some artists around a table, some fiction world builder and for once not some think-tank marketers, to draw only blueprints of what could happen then show them to technical experts… maybe it could be another path to real innovation!

Let’s not forget that Jules Verne kind of predicted the submarine and Internet, that Isaac Asimov has invented robotics and Huxley had foreseen eugenics!

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