Converging technologies and science fiction

Here is the text of a conference in the university of Vienna (Austria) in 2008


Converging technologies are the leading technologies of innovation in industrial countries. This market is estimated to be worth 1500 billion dollars. Each period of innovation is defined by a specific technology that revolutionizes the whole economic system. Carlota Perez has shown that the economic history is distinguished in several cycles of fifty years that are triggered by innovations, like electricity, railways or new technologies of information and communications. Converging technologies is an emergent paradigm that is inspired by a futurological approach and that could become a leading imaginary of an innovation wave creating a new economical cycle. Vance Packard has elaborated one of the first political anticipations of the impact of converging technologies on the organisation of human societies in The people shapers.

He has established a study of how the utopias 1984 and Brave New World could become realities under the development of technologies of social control. Psychologists and cognitive scientists are particularly concerned by this project to create a society in which people would be perfectly controlled through different methods of correction, control and punishment. The original philosophy of this project is Freudian. Freud has established that the human unconscious is dark, and has to be repressed in order to avoid wars and violence. Furthermore, Lorenz has proved that humanity is the only specie that has developed weapons to kill people of its own species. To these theoreticians, humans are bad animals who justify the development of repressive apparatus in the sense of Althusser, mostly through the mental manipulation of individuals. Cognitive sciences and biotechnological engineering are particularly useful in that perspective. Moreover, behaviourist theoreticians advocate the use of technologies of control, and believe the human brain could be considered as a computer. They answer the question of how to control humans to repress their bad instincts by advocating their mechanisation. The quest for behaviour control techniques is frequently evident in the research of psychiatrists and psychologists who aim to control human instincts and avoid violence. For example, Packard explains that Charles Manson knew how to create zombie behaviours in his patients who were perfectly obedient and could kill people under his orders, through hypnosis. These psychologists had a common utopian novel, Walden II, by Skinner, who advocated the psychological control of individuals to make them happy. Lots of therapies are described by Packard to re-educate children and to reprogram outsiders mostly thanks to psychiatric treatments. The aim of these programs of psychological control is to avoid that emotion and passions possibly diverge with the necessity of an instrumental rationality in industrial societies. They aim to create a robotic behaviour. Perfect personalities are created thanks to drugs or brain surgery. The aim is to make humans more docile and adapted to the productive system. Packard quotes Peter Beggins who explains that if America becomes a totalitarianism, it will be because the dictator is a specialist in psychology, lobotomy and psychosurgery. That would help the government to eliminate competition and opponents, considered as schizophrens. This position has also been studied by Gilles Deleuze in L’anti-oedipe and Mille Plateaux. The use of drugs is considered a necessity to control mentally ill people, old people and pupils who are not clever enough and create a movement that is dangerous for the stability of the rest of the society. The control of bodies is the second aspect of this political program. Scientists aim to create super-athletes and super-workers thanks to genetic engineering and other methods. Moreover, they study how to change the ways of reproduction through technological matrices, cloning or artificial insemination.  These programs should lead to positive and negative eugenism and to the creation of Human Animals and of Human Computers. Chimerism has been declared as the scientific future thanks to the scientific progress and proclaimed converging technologies at the end of the 1970’s. If the necessity to control citizens is obviously to guarantee the social order of industrial societies, Packard also reveals the ambivalence of several scientific projects that could be dangerous for individual liberties and for democracy. However, even if most of the prophecies announced in the book have been partially or totally realised during the next three decades, totalitarianism has not been established, even if some theoreticians estimate contemporary democracies tend to become soft totalitarianisms. The converging technologies paradigm studies the futuristic organisation of societies with biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, virtual reality or cognitive sciences. Most of them are described in science fiction films or novels. This paper will focus on several representations of these technologies in science fiction, particularly of nanotechnologies, virtual reality, biotechnologies and cognitive implants. It will be established to what extent science fiction can be used as a valuable tool for predicting the future and the technological utopias of science fiction that could become reality. Moreover, the extent to which science fiction is a technological unconscious contributing to the creation of representations of new technologies which in turn will lead to innovation. Firstly, several science fictional utopias will be studied on the light of the molesian analysis of mythologies. Secondly, the question of the impact of these representations on politics of innovation will be solved through the development of the concept of theological matrices.

A Molesian understanding of the converging technologies in science fiction

Moles has established a typology of the imaginary in twenty one points. This paper aims to evaluate to what extent the science fiction imaginary of converging technologies corresponds to eight of these points and contributes to the process of innovation by structuring the collective imaginary and the scientific unconscious[1].  The comparison of the molesian typology with the different categories of science fiction pieces of work demonstrates that the genre is a dominant mythology in contemporary industrial societies.

  1. The myth of Icarus: Science fiction often deals with outerspace stories. The novel of William Gibson Neuromancer takes place partly in space. It is the same for Schismatrix + by Bruce Sterling, where the stakes of modifying the human body and colonising outerspace are established. The converging technologies science fiction does not particularly take place in outerspace because it has to propose different forms of enhancing of the humankind, on Earth, probably to prepare the specie to leave the planet and colonise other worlds, like the Moon, Mars, the solar system and other parts of the universe. This part of the converging technologies paradigm aims to improve human bodies to permit them to leave their planet and to support long journeys in difficult conditions. Science fiction often presents spaceships, the conquest of the universe, and sometimes deals with terraforming. It is a contemporary myth brought about by the necessity to create engines that fly and leave the Earth. Nanotechnologies could create very light spaceships and planes, like in the Neal Stephenson’s novel Diamond Age, that would permit a democratization of flying vehicles taking the place of cars and other terrestrial vehicles.
  • The myth of Prometheus: Myths about the research of an artificial unlimited energy. Converging technologies do not deal much with energy, even if the biotechnology and nanotechnology programs are interested in the possibility of creating new forms of energy. For example, biotechnologies propose transgenic agriculture that could produce crops used in place of petroleum. Science has anticipated the replacement of petroleum, first, with nuclear energy, but the ecological movement is very influential in contemporary science fiction. It aims to create energy through alternative technologies, like solar energy. This aspect of ecological science fiction is particularly interesting in Germany, where the government does not want to use nuclear energy because it represents too a big risk of explosion and pollution, and creates a vast movement of alternative energy. Science fiction has proposed several representations linked to the risk of the use of solar energy for the human civilisation, particularly in Sunshine where the sun is at risk of death. A mission has to shoot a nuclear nuke on it to switch it on. On Earth, ice is everywhere and most of the population is dead. This example is inspired by the myth of Prometheus and of Icarus. Science fiction has also proposed different representations of alternative energy sources linked to nanotechnologies and biotechnologies.
  1. The myth of Gyges: Possessor of a ring that makes him invisible and can spy on human kind with hidden cameras. This myth is almost realised thanks to nanotechnologies and NTIC. The myth of invisibility has been used in science fiction novels and films like The invisible Man, and the myth of Gyges is revived in Lord of the rings. In 1984, by George Orwell, the society of surveillance is constituted by lots of surveillance cameras. Everyone is controlled by these technologies, and lots of movies show how people control the others through their computers and a virtual reality network. Hidden cameras contribute to the virtualisation of the world, because people feel like they are in another place whilst still being at home. Telepresence is the leading technology allowing the myth of Gyges to be realised. People can view and feel as if they are in another place by manipulating a robot and a virtual technology network. This possibility is evocated in Waldo (1941), where a handicapped child having to live in orbit can also live on Earth thanks to robotic arms. The scenario of a world in which people could manipulate and see other parts of the world and not move from their home is very popular in science fiction novels like Proxies, and in virtual reality research centres that aim to associate virtual reality and haptics.
  • The myth of Babel: Universal language, translating machine. This type of machine is present in science fiction, like the C3PO in Star Wars, able to speak thousands of different languages, or the Babblefish in H2G2. The possibility to speak all the languages of the universe could be possible thanks to cognitive implants contributing to an increase in human intelligence, or thanks to universal translators integrated in cyborgian clothes.
  • The myth of the philosophical stone: This stone has the power to transform matter and to master atoms. It is very often used in science fiction, mainly in terraforming stories. Terraforming is the process to transforming a dead planet into a living one, on the model of Earth. It was proposed by Carl Sagan, who planned to terraform Venus in 1961. Later, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a trilogy about the possibility to conquer and colonise Mars. In Mars the Red, pilgrims arrive on Mars and discover a dead planet where life is difficult. It looks like a desert that has to be modified to permit the establishment of a sustainable human colony. In Mars the blue, planetary engineers make it possible for water to flow on this planet. In Mars the green, the first forms of life appear and the planet begins to look like Earth. That is why terraforming is the contemporary actualisation of the alchemical myth of the philosophal stone. Because it can transform a dead planet into a living one.
  • The myth of the ubiquitous man: Thanks to techniques of telecommunications and the Internet, the possibility exists to be everywhere at the same time. This myth is often used in science fiction that is at the origin of lots of innovations in the field of telecommunications. Philip K Dick wrote a novel called Ubik in 1969, and the cyberpunk movement popularised telecommunications and information technologies mostly linked to Internet technologies and virtual reality networks. Virtual reality and mobile phones are technologies of ubiquity. Science fiction has contributed to the popularisation of these technologies. Ubiquity is the “central paradigm of telecommunications and has been theorised and represented first by science fiction writers, from Jules Verne and Robida, to the cyberpunks, like William Gibson and the cyberspace of Neuromancer, and the postcyberpunks with the metaverse of Neal Stephenson (Snow Crash). In the virtual matrices, hackers can live out adventures in artificial parallel worlds. Science fiction did not anticipate the massive development of computers, even if the “era of computers” was considered in 1966 as a possibility and not only a science fictional faux-semblant[2]. However, it has largely contributed to the popularisation and to the diffusion of new technologies during the 1980’s and the 1990’s mostly because it translated the desires of the consumers of industrial societies to buy technological products like computers, telephones, televisions or video games. The civilisation of the screen has contributed to the creation of fictions about fantasy technologies that were too expensive to be bought by a large market. Virtual reality networks are still utopian technologies that have to wait for the implementation of technologies to be sold to a large market already accustomed to using computers, the Internet and video games. It is probable that the prophecy of Neal Stephenson’s metaverse will become a reality if engineers are able to create an immersive virtual reality network to which it could be possible to connect with special glasses. He describes the metaverse as:

   “In the real world – planet earth, Reality- there are somewhere between six and ten            billion people. At any given time, most of them are making mud bricks or field- stripping their AK-47s. Perhaps a billion of them have enough money to own a            computer; these people have more money than all of the others put together. Of these        billion potential computer owners, maybe a quarter of them actually bother to own          computers enough to handle the Street protocol. That makes for about six million   people who can be on the Street at any given time. Add in another sixty million or so who can’t really afford it but go there anyway, by using public machines, or machines      owned by their school or their employer, and at any given time the Street is occupied     by twice the population of New York City”[3].

Virtual reality networks are utopian technologies present in the technological    unconscious from the middle of the 1980’s which could become reality when    scientists and engineers are able to produce a fast enough debit and to commercialise powerful enough computers. This will probably not be before the 2020’s. By then, people will live in an artificial world immersed in artificial hallucinations, like in giant video games in which people can connect and feel as if they are meeting a real person. This scenario of a completely simulated world is a kind of what Baudrillard calls a “hyperreality”, in which the reality    and the imaginary can no longer be distinguished.

  • The myth of the universal shop: Supermarket in which it is possible to find all the products needed. This utopia is linked to the utopia of the society of abundance, which is recurrent in the history of utopias. This myth is relative to the golden age described by Hesiode in his poem Works and Days. According to him, the Earth produced food in abundance at this age, so that agriculture was rendered superfluous. This myth has been relayed in science fiction through technological utopias like the matter compilator in Diamond Age. This technology permits the production of as many objects as the users wants thanks to the utilisation of carbon. Users order their object through the Internet and the machine produces it several minutes later. It can produce food or objects. This utopia is partly related by the fab labs that should be able to do this activity in the coming years. This technology uses nanotechnologies.
  • The myth of the artificial procreation:  Cloning is a recurrent project in science fiction from Brave new world. People can create their double in an artificial uterus. The expression is the title of a book by Henry Atlan who estimates that females will be obsolete in the future because their children will be brought up in artificial structures. Cloning is omnipresent in science fiction, and in The Island, a cloning company, nurture clones for their owners who then kill them when they decide they need a new organ.

Imaginary representations and innovation

Science fiction is the mythology of industrial societies. It helps to influence scientists, politicians, and decision makers to launch programs of research and development programs that are built on the desire to realise and to explore science fiction scenarii. Mythology is a very important factor of cohesion of industrial societies which aim to reveal universal topics. Science fiction is a specific mythology in the sense that it takes inspiration from most of the world’s mythologies thanks to the erudition of the writers, and adapts the fiction to the dreams of industrial societies. Industrial societies are built on a social pact relative to a positivist spirit theorised by Comte. Science fiction contributes to the mythologisation of science, to its popularisation, and to the vulgarisation of scientific discoveries and utopias in society. Roland Barthes has studied the mythologies of the consumption society criticized by Debord in the 1950’s. This mythology was mainly centred on the cult of objects. Science fiction is the postmodern mythology. People believe in technicism, studied by Ellul, in technology and in progress. Cyberculture is a dominant ideology that incites people to buy new objects and that contributes to the process of creative destruction of industrial capitalism. Science fictional representations contribute to the invention of new objects, desired by the markets, and potentially feasible by engineers. Marketing is very interested by the imaginary and science fiction. Georges M. Henault[4] has demonstrated that imaginary archetypes contribute to building the markets’s structure and that it has to be carefully studied by scientists, marketers and business men in order to create a valuable commercial strategy, linked to the desires of the markets. Imaginary archetypes are central elements of the commercial strategies of postmodern companies for a good reason. People already live in an imaginary world, a consensual hallucination described by Gibson, a virtual reality described by Goldmann, or a hyperreality as described by Baudrillard. In Paranofiction, Ariel Kyrou explains that in a science fictional society, actors can no longer distinguish what is real from what is imaginary. However, they are not schizophrenic, but connected to a very fast system in which innovation is considered better than tradition. It legalises the process of inventing new products, and the necessity to realise the desires of actors. Imaginary is a fundamental value in this type of society, in which people are often connected to information networks, to movies and to iconic flux. The entry in the science fictional era creates the necessity for the actors to know the main mythological representations. Most of the actors know the main references of the science fictional mythology and adhere to the representations of the future promoted in this genre. Science fiction is the mythology of the future, in the sense that rarely it describes the past, except in the case of uchronies. It investigates were the society is going, proposing several prospective scenarii. However, science fiction does not only investigate the world transformed by science and technology. It also investigates futures or parallel worlds in which these two elements have disappeared, like in Homo disparitus, which describes a world in which the human race has been extinguished. Technophily is a central element of the science fictional genre. During the 1980’s and 1990’s, science fiction invented a technological utopia around converging technologies that has inspired decision makers and engineers, who try to study and use science fiction to improve their processes of innovation. The science fictional era is specific in the sense that it is founded on the realisation of technological invention described in films or novels. Imaginary technologies are often proposed to the markets several years after they have been presented as an impossible dream in science fiction. The genre crystallises the technological dreams of a period and contributes to their popularisation. The global desire to realise and to use these imaginary objects (linked to the adhesion to theses imaginary schemes) contributes to the stimulation of the process of innovation, because people do not like to be frustrated. All the imaginary and desirable objects aim to be realised. All the imaginary and undesirable fictions aim to be repressed. The science fictional era is built on the belief that science and technology are able to realise the science fictional delirium. The process of innovation is oriented towards the necessity to eliminate the frustration of consumers in front of imaginary scenario. Science fiction plays a part in stimulating innovation in the optimist’s world. Indeed, people believe that science can make anything happen. It needs new challenges in order to encourage people to adhere to its teleologies. Science fiction is an imaginary advertising method for technosciences and for technological industries. It helps to stimulate the imaginary of young engineers’ imagination, most of them reading and watching this kind of imaginary production, in parallel with the scholar, or university lectures. Science fiction contributes to the construction of what Bachelard calls the “scientific spirit”. If science fiction is a mythology and contributes to the spirit of the postmodern capitalism, it is also an ideology, because it is consciously used by technological companies to promote their activities and to create a technological world, presented as a utopia when it is firstly an economical necessity. Science fiction is necessary to marketing because it has a double interest:

  1. It proposes a technological and capitalistic utopia of converging technologies that could help enhance and improve human kind.
  2. Technological companies participate in a process of progress and sustainable development, as suggested in science fiction. It helps stimulate consumers and entrepreneurs to adhere to the technological utopia to be realised.

 Science fiction, theological matrix of innovation

Science fiction contributes to innovation by proposing several theological perspectives. Converging technologies put forward two specific theological thematics, like immortality through mind uploading, and the transformation of human bodies in superorganisms able to colonise other planets of the solar system. Immortality is a recurrent theme in religion, mythology, and science fiction. Scientists aim to create drugs permitting to achieve this perspective to be achieved, and the biotechnology industry funds its business on the belief that their products will prolong life expectancy, and maybe lead to the eternal youth. The novel “The picture of Dorian Gray” illustrates this myth. The hero choose to remain forever young but sees all his friends and family dying, while he sees his soul getting older in a mirror showing him how evil he really is. This myth particularly corresponds to the contemporary society in which the baby boomers aim to live for at least one hundred years. They have developed the “biotechnological dream” (Sfez) and think science will allow them to live a longer and healthier life. The myth of immortality reveals tragical psychological problems. Immortals have problems with others because they are not like them, mortal. Science fiction has developed this theme and has introduced a technological aspect. Michal G. Coney in Friends Come in Boxes, develops a society in which people can transfer their minds into brains  in order to regain their youth. This project permits the creation of superbrains which are very clever as their identities have various life experiences. However, people do not want to have children anymore because they do not want their child to be given to an individual who wants to upload his mind on to them. That is why special boxes are created specifically to upload minds. This novel is a metaphor of the informatisation of societies. Indeed, people are accustomed to transferring their knowledge onto computers. In traditional societies, where orality is the first way of communication, people orally transfer their knowledge and their memory to their children by explaining them their experience. In information societies, the transfer of knowledge is made through computers. People store their information in a computer, and the global networks either permit or prohibit their circulation. The mind uploading myth is a metaphor of the massive computers use in industrial societies. Sfez has explained that the individuals of these societies suffer from tautism, pathologically defined by the autism created as a result of a long period of exposure to screens, like computers or televisions. Computer hackers suffer from a specific behaviour. They are not really in reality because they have transferred their minds to virtual worlds. Their mind is in the computer and no longer in their body because they considered that the computer was their new brain. The mind/body dualism becomes a triolism, mind/body/computer, which explains why the geeks (massive users of information technologies), look like zombies, they no longer possess their brain. Their spirit is inside the screen, because lots of them think there is a spirit inside the global network and that they communicate with it when they use their computers. Tautism is the pathology issued from the mind uploading myth. People think that they will achieve immortality by transferring their knowledge to computers, and finally, the machine possesses them, and they look like autists. They are not, because computers are communicating machines, but they appear this way in the real world. The second theological matrix is the myth of the superman able to explore other worlds. Science fiction has always developed stories about space exploration, and the colonisation of the solar system. The converging technologies paradigm aims to develop the technologies allowing people to be sent to other planets without any special suit. They aim to create a new human race able to adapt to other worlds, like in Man Plus of Frederick Pohl, in which a man is transformed into something else, able to live on Mars. The first Martian is a man, in this story. His name is Torraway, first man of a new race of half-men and half-cyborgs. This novel, has probably inspired the Cyborg Manifesto of Haraway. The mutations of human bodies are possible through biotechnologies, nanotechnologies and cognitive sciences and are necessary if the human specie aims to live in interplanetary environments. For example, human astronauts lose their muscles in zero gravity environments and have problems readapting when they come back to Earth. They are very sensible to the variations of temperature, and cannot breathe in all atmospheres. They are adapted to Earth atmosphere. That is why it is probable that the converging technologies paradigm aims to create the possibilities to build variations of the human race able to live in extraterrestrial environments. They could be aliens, generated by the human race through converging technologies. The possibility to create other creatures is a chimerical perspective denounced in several books, like in the Faustian myth. Science fiction is a Faustian mythology in the sense that it invents projects of big science that could radically transform the relationship of the human kind with the cosmos. The project of creating supermen able to travel through the universe and to create colonies in other worlds is a technological and theological possibility that has to be explored first through a pragmatic and ethical perspective. Mind Uploading and Human Aliens are the two major themes of the theological matrix leading the innovation process of the converging technologies paradigm. They contribute to the stimulation of  scientific fantasy, and reveal the public’s dreams, interested by their relationships with machines and by the possibility to create human colonies in other worlds, like the Moon or Mars, to expand the living territory of the human specie.

Towards enhanced human beings in outerspace?

The converging technologies paradigm offers the opportunity to investigate the possibility to create a “cosman”, that is to say a man adapted to living in outerspace or on other planets. Cosman is the synthesis of cosmic and man. It has been described by Sterling in Schismatrix+ and he called them the mecas and the morphos. Hugo de Garis has developed the theme of war between terrans and artilects (artificial intelligences able to live in outerspace and are considered the successors of the human race). This philosophy is adopted by the extropian movement that estimates that the aim of the human species is to colonise outerspace after having migrated in machines. One of their visions is to mind upload the human spirit after several years of connectivity to the Internet network, to store all the human memory in a space computer similar to the digital world brain, to activate a program of artificial life and through the space ship in outerspace to colonise other worlds in the form of artificial intelligences, synthesis of the different human intelligences. Biological mutants could also colonise other worlds. For example, some of the X Men have the power to fly, even in outerspace and to reach other planets in which they can live easily. That is for example the case of Superman, who is able to live more easily on Krypton. If Superman is an alien, lots of the other superheroes are human but have suffered from genetic modifications that give them superpowers, like the ability to live on other planets without breathing oxygen. Augmented human beings are very popular in science fiction and contribute to increased media coverage of the space utopia. Lots of astronauts can breathe on other planets without their space suits, to make films or novels easier to understand. However, most of the astronauts are inferior when compared to aliens. Most of the films maintain the specificity of the human colonisation of the solar system and do not present mutant astronauts, which would have been biotechnologically modified before having been sent on a space mission. Astronauts mostly remain humans because they are examples to young and contribute to the stimulation of the space imaginary. Monsters, as seen in the movie Alien, could be the result of bad biotechnological experiences in other worlds. Several experts estimate that space’s foundation on other planets could be the opportunity to experiment with the Faustian project without the risk of destroying terrestrial ecosystems. Most of the space mutants in science fiction are monsters. They are scary and very strong and play to shoot astronauts. Generally, most of them are killed, except for one or two heroes who are particularly kind and virtuous. All the bad people of the crew are killed by the monster, which is stronger  and more powerful than they are. Monsters in outerspace are the most significant threats which astronauts face when confronted with the possibility that the spaceship may crash, run out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, or meet an asteroid or an enemy spaceship. Generally, astronauts remain human in these circumstances but the converging technologies paradigm suggests in the sequel to Pohl’s novel Man Plus that the human kind could evolve in other worlds thanks to a cybernetic mutation, as explained several years before by Clynes and Kline through the concept of cyborg. Biocybernetics could lead to the radical modification of the human race to transform it in other races able to live in other worlds. If Giordano Bruno has been condemned for heresy because he estimated that a plurality of worlds existed in the universe, science fiction investigates the possibility to transform the human nature to adapt it to these other worlds, which space agencies aim to explore and colonise. This is probably a reason why the genre is often condemned and defined as evil, even if Christianity has evolved towards a better understanding of the scientific view of the world and of the universe. Enhancing humans is an important project for the converging technologies paradigm and science fiction modestly contributes to the invention of a man of the future able to live in extraterrestrial worlds. Gilbert Hottois has evocated a centre of biocybernetics in Species Technicae in which he describes how scientists cary out tests on humans that become monsters or chimeras. Cosmen, products of the evolution of the converging technologies and of biocybernetics could be able to live in very dangerous environments because they would not really be humans anymore. They would be something else. However, it is possible that the successors of the human specie will not be mechanical or digital as suggested in several science fiction stories. The biopunk movement suggests that biological mutants could succeed contemporary humans. If the cyberneticians and the cyberpunks thought technosciences could build artificial intelligences able to take the place of the human kind, biopunks extrapolate scenarii around the possibility of building superhumans without technological prosthesis but through genetic manipulations. If lots of technological prophets have suggested that cybernetics could improve human beings, few science fiction writers have developed projects to improve human performances through biotechnologies, even if superheroes in mangas have superpowers that give them the status of semi-gods in the contemporary mythology. Science fiction heroes are a factor in the stimulation of industrial societies’ imaginations. Lots of young individuals watch movies at the cinema, buy DVDs or play video games where the main themes have been adapted from this art. Books are also adapted from these imaginary universes. Finally, science fiction heroes and their environments become very popular and influence young peple. This phenomenon is wide-spread in post-industrial countries like Japan and the USA, where fictional superheroes are identitary models for individuals. Most of them are very virtuous, fight against evils and transmit values of honour, good against bad, and various others that are normally transmitted by families or institutions. These cartoons and films communicate a heroic personality to the individuals of industrial societies, and the wish to participate in the triumph of good against evil. This is an explanation of why lots of these movies are Manichean and contribute to the diffusion of traditional values. They are the synthesis of the main mythologies and religions of planet Earth and the general public is aware of their themes. Science fiction also structures the scientific identity of individuals in industrial societies. It advocates an instrumental rationality and progress in technology and science. Science fiction promotes a heroical technoscientific personality which is very useful in industrial societies. It is used to stimulate the people’s desire to participate in the progress of the technostructure, as a management tool through imaginary archetypes. Science fiction is very popular and very useful in industrial societies because it contributes to the creation of a common culture to industrial workers, who have the same imagination of the future and of technosciences. All of them know they have to produce and work to achieve the teleological goals established by science fiction. Moreover, they dream about using and buying the objects described in these fictions and believe that scientific progress will lead to their realisation. They believe that it is possible to realise the utopian technologies of science fiction novels. They believe in the ability of society to realise them because nothing is impossible for technosciences. They believe in the potential reality of science fiction and this faith provokes the realisation of the described worlds. The contemporary period is defined by the impossibility to distinguish fantasy from reality because people are integrated in iconic fluxes and believe in fanciful stories mostly inspired by science fiction and credible because of the technological developments realised in R&D centres. Science fiction is used by scientists to find inspiration, and to extrapolate scenarii about the implications of the introduction of a new technology in a market. They contribute to the transformation of industrial societies through its technological equipment. The science fiction era is defined by the technological wave of innovation in the field of converging technologies that aims to enhance humans and to create the conditions of their migration towards others worlds. More and more pieces of science fiction art are interested in the possible negative consequences of the race for progress in industrial societies, which could be destroyed by their desire to become better and never satisfied by what they already have. This scenario is presented in Homo disparitus, in which the human race has disappeared, a victim of its own progress. Indeed, the progress linked to the converging technologies paradigm could lead to the creation of superhumans who could destroy the weak like African people who are starving. The race towards innovation could have tragical consequences that are explored in science fiction. Risks linked to nanotechnologies are presented in Blood music by Bear and by Drexler through his concept of grey goo. Genocides caused by genetically modified organisms could also cause the death of millions of people, as suggested in several novels in the anthology Moissons futures. Indeed, food could become a lethal poison if it is modified by scientists. Virtual reality could also be a source of alienation, as presented in The Matrix, in which people live in a computer simulation managed by machines and are not aware that they are their slaves. Cognitive implants could also be dangerous to freedom, as explained in MIR in which people are living in a cognitive goulag taking the place of normal prisons. Science fiction also presents the dangers of cognitive technologies and reveals the political stakes posed by these innovations which are ambivalent, proposing progress on the one hand but also presenting a danger to freedom, peace and security on the other hand. Science fiction helps to make scientists and citizens aware of the consequences of innovations in societies, constituting an ethic of progress in industrial societies, relaying the principle responsibility of Jonas and prompting the investigation of the risks linked to these innovations in a beckian perspective. Science fiction has also considered the possible alteration of human beings and of other species through the natural alteration of genes or by the use of genetic engineering. Stories of mutants became common in the 1930’s, in the pulp magazines, leading to the theme of superheroes. The philosophy of genetic engineering is strongly influenced by Nietzscheanism or social darwinism. Examples of genetically modified individuals are common in science fiction. The video game series Resident Evil present the illegal creation of genetically engineered viruses which turn humans and animals into Tyrants or Hunters as a result of the politics of a world-wide pharmaceutical company called the Umbrella Corporation. In the Science Fiction series Battletech, the clans have developed a genetic engineering program to create better warriors, consisting of eugenics and the use of artificial wombs. Genetic engineering is often used in science fiction to create supersoldiers able to fight in very difficult conditions, and sometimes in other worlds. The series CoDominium of Jerry Pournelle develops a supersoldier program leading to the creation of the Sauron cyborgs or Supermen through genetic engineering. They have various physical characteristics and abilities that make them particularly resistant in hostile environments. In Banner of the stars, the Abh are a race of genetically engineered humans, who have adapted to life in zero-gravity environments, with the same features such as beauty, long life expectancy, lifelong youthful appearance, blue hair, and a « space sensory organ ». They are the epitomes of new races created by humans to live in outerspace through genetic engineering. In Marvel Comics, the 31st century adventurers called the Guardians of the Galaxy are genetically engineered residents of Maercur, Jupiter and Pluto. In the 2000 AD seriesRogue Trooper is a genetic infantryman, member of an elite group of genetically modified soldiers able to resist the poisons left in the Nu-Earth atmosphere by decades of war. James Blish’s The Seedling Stars (1956) is the classic story of genetic engineering adapted to the creation of humans able to live in extraterrestrial environments. The Adapted Men are reshaped and designed to live on a variety of other planets. In Stargate SG-1, the DNA resequencer is a device built by the Ancients to upgrade humans’ brain activity. This machine gives them superhuman abilities, such as telekinesis, telepathy, precognition, superhuman senses, strength, and intellect, the power to heal at an incredible rate, and the power to heal others by touch. Genetic engineering is mostly used to create superhumans able to live in other environments or to fight in hostile worlds, like supersoldiers. On the other hand, eugenics is a recurrent theme in science fiction, that explores the possible derivatives of an uncontrolled use of genetic engineering technologies which could lead to the desire to create a perfect race of supermen and the wish to eliminate undermen like in the nazi regime or in social darwinism. This philosophy has been developed in Brave New World and in Moreau’s Island. These novels have cristallised the political imaginary issued from the discoveries of Darwin, who had discovered the theory of evolution. Hitler finally decided to eliminate parts of the population declared inferior or insane like the jewes or mentally ill people. In that specific case, science fiction plays the role of medium, between the scientific theory and the political doctrine leading to the efficient pratice of eugenism. Science fiction is established on a specific style. It does not clearly denounce eugenical totalitarianisms and its does not clearly make an apology for them. It proposes several scenarii of what could be possible thanks to technological progress. It participates in the evolution of political ideas and social and scientific innovations. The film Gattaca is particularly interesting because it presents a society in which children from the middle and upper classes are considered genetically correct and have good employement prospects whereas children from poor classes are declared genetically incorrect and have bad jobs. Genetic criterias takes the place of class criterias to classify individuals and the film is a mirror of the contemporary industrial society. It prolongs the critic established by Pierre Bourdieu of social determinism in the elaboration of social identities and positions, and estimates that a possible future criterion will be funded on genetic tests. If science fiction has developed several exemples of eugenic societies, it has also represented supersoldiers or superhumans able to live in dangerous environments like those on planets.


Converging technologies pose several risks to industrial societies concerned by the necessity to modernize their infrastructure and to optimize the way of life of their members. Democracy has to deal with the risks of technocratic totalitarianism linked to converging technologies and represented in several science fiction masterpieces. Science fiction has contributed to the debate about the production and the use of technological innovation in societies, generating a kind of ethic of technologies. The genre visualizes the future that stimulates the desire of innovation of citizens and scientists. It has been established that a relatively long period lasts between the invention of the utopian technology and its realisation, permitting discussion and public debate around ethical problems during the gap separating the dream of the technology and the time of its realisation. R&D centers, scientists and engineers often use science fiction to create their innovations and to generate them via the media to a public passionate about new objects. Science fiction is a very useful tool in marketing and in management. Firstly, it is used to promote technological innovation policies. Secondly, it is used to stimulate the imagination and the creativity of producers, who like to believe that they participate in the creation of a technology or of a big project already  anticipated by science fiction writers who are considered as the contemporary utopists. Converging technologies should contribute to the improvement of living conditions of the citizens of contemporary democracy, by developing their capacities and by increasing the security of their environments. Clockwork Orange of Stanley Kubrick, inspired by the novel of Burges is an archetypal film of this futuristic paradigm because it shows how virtual reality technologies and cognitive sciences will increase the possibility of societies to be protected againsts outsiders or criminals. This film shows how the developments in psychiatry will allow governments to control citizens and to establish a perfectly normal state of mind that will be required as a necessity in society. Other people will be eliminated, or reeducated by psychiatric treatments, to avoid acts of violence or revolts that could disturb the normal productive system. Thanks to the progress of psychiatry, normality should be everywhere and society should avoid horror and terror. This scenario has been studied by Vance Packard who has estimated that psychiatric hospitals have several methods of repression thanks to the progresses of drugs to reeducate dangerous people like pedophiles, homosexuals or criminals. On the other hand, science fiction films and movies dealing with nanotechnologies and biotechnologies, like the books of Neal Stephenson Diamond Age and Snow Crash demonstrate that these technologies could authorize access to a society of abundance, and to the creation of superhumans able to protect the territory from external threats. The fashion of nuclear weapons was abandoned in science fiction at the end of the cold war, and the cyberpunk movement has reinvented new modes of creating wars thanks to converging technologies. Science fictionnal conflicts are often between the government and groups of rebels that disturb the megamachine, like “scums” or hackers. However, nuclear wars have not completely disappeared from science fiction like in Battlestar Gallactica, in which the human specie is detonated by the explosion of the nukes. The science fiction of the converging technologies paradigm has established a vision of the future in which security should be garanteed, in which purity and hygiene should be better, and in which citizens should be more intelligent and stronger. Cyberpunk science fiction has reactivated the utopia of the brave new world in the light of the scientific progress of converging technologies.

[1] Moles Abraham, « La fonction des mythes dynamiques dans la construction de l’imaginaire social », Cahiers de l’Imaginaire social, n°5/6, 1990, p. 9-33

[2] « L’ère des ordinateurs », Recherches et Débats, n°57, Desclée de Brouwer, 1966, liminaires

[3] Stephenson Neal, Snow Crash, Roc Book, 1993, p. 24-25

[4] Henault Georges M., « Les archétypes jungiens, mythes ou Saint Graal du marketing international ? », Consommations & Sociétés, n°5

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