In its July-August 2016 issue (no. 413), Futuribles began an extended series on science fiction’s relations with, and contribution to, foresight studies, in order to discern whether and to what extent science-fiction writers have had an influence on the collective imagination and on foresight thinking. After examining these questions from the socio-political and environmental angles, we resume this series here, looking now at science and technology: how do science, technology and science fiction relate to one another?
In this article Thomas Michaud looks at the role of science fiction in research and innovation, particularly within public or private R&D centres. Drawing on the specific cases of the European Space Agency, the Nano Regions Alliance (NANORA), Orange Labs, and Intel and Microsoft, he shows how science fiction has fostered — and still fosters — certain forward-looking research projects, and also how it can be used to generate investment or inspire trust among the public to promote specific research or technology. Michaud emphasizes, lastly, how some companies encourage or sponsor science-fiction (SF) writers in order to develop an SF mind-set that chimes with their own long-term strategy and the innovations they are working on. So many interactions over which those engaged in foresight studies must cast a critical eye if they are to determine plausible lines of future development.