Cette page regroupe l'ensemble des publications de Futuribles sur cette thématique (Vigie, revue, bibliographie, études, etc.)
This article presents the uchronia imagined by Philip Roth in his recent novel, The Plot against America (London: Jonathan Cape, 2004, 391 pp), a look back at the years 1940-1942 in the United States, drawing on a mixture of his own experience and various real events of the time. What would have happened if Charles Lindbergh had run for President in 1940 and had won against Roosevelt? Would the United States have played the same role in the Second World War?
Futuribles has devoted much space in the last year to the problems of research, and in particular its organization. In a recent article (n° 306, March 2005), Catherine Paradeise and Jean-Claude Thoenig argued that it is essential to consult everyone involved in the research system and to explain to them, step by step if necessary, the need for changes in the hopes that the reform might then be carried through, with particular reference to France.
We continue the debate on this question with an article describing the Japanese experience of reforming their research system. Michel Israël shows how the Japanese radically overhauled their system by means of several five-year plans. Above all, he highlights the current major reform of the national universities which affects their method of hiring to research posts; partnerships between universities, industry and government; the creation of centres of excellence, etc. Key words here are competition, autonomy, releasing creativity and more flexible management. He also describes how this reform, which aims to restore Japan as a leader in research internationally, has been welcomed and implemented by the main players involved. The reform may not yet be completed, but it is well under way; it remains to be seen what its impact will be on Japan's performance in research in the next few years.
Daniel Bell's book The Coming of Post-industrial Society. A Venture in Social Forecasting (New York: Basic Books, 1973) was the product of much research during the 1950s. It became a classic reference for sociologists and was very quickly seized upon (not to say exploited) by those concerned with future studies. They found in it solid arguments and valuable insights into the evolution of Western societies.
In this extract from the introduction, Bell starts by reminding readers of what distinguishes forecasting from prediction. He then examines the main types of forecasting: technological, demographic, economic, political and social. The exercises in "social forecasting" seem to him to be the most important, to be given the highest priority, although they are also extremely difficult to carry out because so many, often imprecise variables have to be taken into account. To get around this difficulty, his advice is to rely on a rigorous theoretical framework and on good empirical indicators: future studies are not possible without a minimum of conceptual thinking and an objective awareness of current realities.
Finally, he puts this advice into practice by suggesting the best way, in his view, to understand the emergence of the "post-industrial society". Bringing together facts and theories, he concludes that this new model of society can be observed in five major trends: towards a service economy; the pre-eminence of the professional and technical class; the primacy of applied theoretical knowledge; the planning and control of technological growth; and lastly the rise of a new "intellectual technology".
This last point is fundamental in his eyes, and it leads him to talk (long before such notions were fashionable) about a "knowledge-based society" and "the information society". At the same period, other writers shared Bell's conclusions; we should remember, for example, that the term "post-industrial" was coined by David Riesman in the United States in 1958. During the 1960s, in France, Raymond Aron, Alain Touraine and André Gorz were developing similar analyses. At the time, their conclusions caused surprise; now they have become reality.
Isaac Asimov (1920-1992) is held to be one of the most prolific science fiction writers of his generation. He was born in Russia, exiled to the United States with his family at the age of three, and took American citizenship in 1928. He wrote his first stories (unpublished) at the age of 11 while continuing to study, gaining his doctorate in chemistry in 1948.
His first story (Marooned off Vesta) was published in the magazine Amazing in 1939. There followed over a hundred stories, enriched by Asimov's wide scientific learning, and they made him one of the greatest science fiction writers of the 20th century. His best known work is probably the Foundation cycle. The Robots series is the other cornerstone of his oeuvre, in which Asimov explores all sorts of relationships between men and machines, foreseeing most of the developments in electronics that have occurred to date - but not, however, the miniaturization of computers.
The short story reprinted here belongs to that series. It comes from the collection entitled Robot Dreams and deals with the problems that a human being can face when obliged to rely on the decisions of a machine he has himself created and that has been fed with data produced by other humans. A recurring theme in futures studies - "Garbage In, Garbage Out" - underlies Henderson's remarks about the central computer: "Then just a big machine. No better than the information fed into it."
A lively debate has been going on simultaneously in France for several years on several topics:
- "the decline of France", the decline of manufacturing and the fact that the economy is falling behind that of other industrialized countries, especially the United States and the rapidly growing developing nations in Asia;
- the ups and downs of research in France and, worse still, the country's poor showing with regard to technological development and innovation.
Futuribles has made a major contribution to this debate, including publishing numerous articles criticizing the lack of a satisfactory policy to foster research and innovation, and putting forward various proposals for improving the situation.
The French government, as is now standard practice, has announced that it will soon present to parliament (though this keeps being postponed) a draft bill about research and innovation; the preliminary proposals, insofar as they are yet known, appear to rely heavily on the creation of a "national research agency".
At the same time, the French President has asked Jean-Louis Beffa, the highly respected CEO of the firm Saint-Gobain, to draw up a report published on 15 January 2005 entitled Pour une nouvelle politique industrielle (Towards a New Industrial Strategy).
The preliminary proposals and, more particularly, the Beffa Report, are examined here by André-Yves Portnoff, who criticizes yet again this typically French gambit of not only piling on even more laws and regulations, but now creating more and more quangos, relying exclusively on major public programmes to be run by large (often state-owned) firms and geared to supplying the public sector. Past experience has shown that this approach, except in certain specific sectors, has had limited success. It would be much better to foster innovation of all kinds by smaller firms that are more in touch with the market.
Prospective et défense sont depuis longtemps intimement liées : la première trouve naturellement dans la seconde un terreau fertile à son développement, notamment dans sa capacité à offrir un cadre à la planification militaire dans un environnement forcément complexe et imprévisible. Certaines des approches méthodologiques modernes de la prospective ont d'ailleurs pour origine des réflexions d'ordre militaire (aux États-Unis, par exemple, dès les années 1950, au sein du projet RAND). Au-delà des relations entre prospective et défense, l'auteur ...
(482 more words)
Following the protests from the French research community in Spring 2004, on several occasions between June and December 2004 Futuribles provided coverage of the debate about ways of reforming the French research system. This article by Catherine Paradeise and Jean-Claude Thoenig continues the debate, this time proposing a pragmatic approach that would make it easier to implement reform.
Indeed, quite apart from the many proposals for changing and overhauling the way that public research is organized, the key question is how reforms could actually be put into practice and, in particular, how those working in the public research sector could be persuaded to see the reforms as being in their own interest. The authors, who are specialists in the sociology of organizations, therefore examine here this aspect of how reforms of the system are implemented and the feasibility of the approaches so far envisaged.
Their analysis is based on the conviction that such a fundamental reform cannot occur without the participation of everyone involved and it must come from the bottom up, gradually and in small, unconnected steps, rather than via a global, institutional approach. The important thing is to "put an end to a majestic, all-encompassing vision of the reform", by increasing the number of intermediate levels likely to trigger organizational changes. Strategic guidance by the public authorities should therefore consist of fostering and capitalizing on the incremental improvements and then, in the medium term, regulating them so as to make them the source of more general change in the long run.
In other words, a key criterion for the success of reforms should be their feasibility. The authors offer here an analysis applied to the various proposals made for the organization of research. Their strong wish is that the management and guidance of the reforms by public authorities should for once avoid being as feeble as they tend to be in France, no matter which field is concerned.
La société de conseil Forecasting International suit depuis longtemps les grandes tendances du monde contemporain. Son président, Martin Cetron, et Owen Davies, journaliste scientifique, résument dans cet article les changements à l'oeuvre dans les domaines économique, social, démographique et environnemental, en les illustrant de faits qu'ils jugent significatifs, et en en dégageant les implications pour les décideurs. Ainsi, après avoir rappelé les projections de population mondiale du Census Bureau, ils avancent l'idée que celles-ci sous-estiment peut-être la ...
(374 more words)
The British economist W.S. Jevons (1835-1882) was described by Schumpeter, in his monumental History of Economic Analysis, as "one of the most truly original economists who ever lived". Nevertheless, he does not mention Jevons' book on The Coal Question, published in 1865, which warned of the possibility that the coal deposits of the United Kingdom would inevitably run out in the long term, which led the government to set up a commission of enquiry on this matter (it concluded that the coal seams would be exhausted by 1988...).
Looking at the issue as an economist and not as a geologist or engineer, Jevons challenges the idea that "our coal seams will be found emptied to the bottom, and swept clean like a coal-cellar". In his opinion, the real problem lay instead with the gradual disappearance of the comparative advantage Britain then enjoyed relative to its competitors thanks to the size and relative cheapness of its coal reserves. He drew the depressing conclusion that he put in the form of the following dilemma: "We have to make the momentous choice between brief greatness and longer continued mediocrity."
This disenchanted conclusion calls forth two comments. The first, just an aside, is that it was couched in remarkably similar terms to those that the economist Augustin Cournot was to use in 1877 in his book Revue sommaire des doctrines économiques, in which he talks about the dilemma of governments that, faced with the prospect of coal reserves running out "within five or six centuries", will have to ask themselves "whether it is better for the fire in the hearth of civilization should be kept alight as long as possible or whether it should burn more quickly and give out more intense heat". The other comment is more serious and concerns Jevons' curiously defeatist attitude to the loss of Britain's comparative advantage as coal became more expensive in the long term - as if this alone would be enough to bring an end to the country's hegemony...
Ensemble des techniques et des connaissances liées à l'utilisation du vivant dans les processus de production, les biotechnologies recouvrent un large champ d'investigation qui va de la santé (biotechnologie rouge) à l'agriculture (biotechnologie verte) en passant par la chimie de transformation des ressources renouvelables (biotechnologie blanche). Le récent rapport de Jean-Yves Le Déaut, député de Meurthe-et-Moselle et vice-président de l'OPECST (Office parlementaire d'évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques), a fait le point sur " la place ...
(272 more words)
This article is the seventh in the series started by Futuribles in June 2004, in partnership with the Aleph group of the French Commissariat général du Plan. The aim of the series is to enlighten readers about what specialist bodies are doing in other countries in the area of futures studies and strategic thinking geared to public decision-making. The earlier articles looked at what is happening respectively in Germany, Ireland, Sweden, Quebec, South Africa and Japan. This seventh article focuses on the countries that joined the European Union in May 2004 (Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia, Cyprus and Malta).
Mounir Corm and Aurélien Colson argue here that, although the ten new member states are extremely diverse and have very different histories, they have considerable expertise with regard to foresight, planning and/or strategic thinking. They describe the main agencies, country by country.
"Coup de gueule en urgence. Alerte sur notre contrat social" est destiné à réveiller les Français. Hervé Sérieyx pense qu’il est encore temps de faire bouger les choses dans la société, tout du moins si l’on veut conserver notre contrat social (qui repose essentiellement sur la solidarité entre les individus). Au cours de sa carrière, il a régulièrement constaté ce qu’il appelle le « catastrophisme du bousier », ou la capacité qu’ont les individus à voir tout en ...
(84 more words)
Le rapport annuel de la Commission économique des Nations unies (UNECE) sur la place de la robotique dans le monde, tant industriel que domestique, nous donne quelques chiffres éloquents sur l'avenir du robot à la maison. Aujourd'hui, près de 610 000 robots de service sont en fonctionnement, principalement des aspirateurs et des tondeuses. L'ONU estime qu'entre 2004 et 2007, leur nombre devrait augmenter de 4 millions, soit une progression de 655 %. Côté professionnel, les robots médicaux ...
(102 more words)
Ce chapitre est extrait du Rapport Vigie 2016 de Futuribles International, qui propose un panorama structuré des connaissances et des incertitudes des experts que l'association a mobilisés pour explorer les évolutions des 15 à 35 prochaines années sur 11 thématiques.