The French army is enlisting sci-fi writers to predict the future


(Clem Onojeghuo, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Dan Salazar, Director, Mastercard & Carlos Monteverde, Product Manager, Mastercard

Think the unthinkable. Then write it down. That’s the mission for a new team working inside the French army.

The “red team” will be made up of science fiction writers tasked with coming up with challenging scenarios military strategists might not have thought of.

Whether it’s a terrorist incident or a major fire, civil defence and emergency services need to rehearse their responses to ensure they are as effective as possible. The situations imagined by the red team – made up of a handful of writers – will be acted out by those first-responders.

These envisioned threats will depict what might happen if terrorist groups or state-sponsored attackers arm themselves with novel tools and techniques to wreak havoc.

The world faces a growing number of complex and interconnected challenges.

The world faces a growing number of complex and interconnected challenges.
Image: World Economic Forum
Likely threats

Among the global risks most likely to dominate civil defence agendas in the near future are climate change, cyberattacks and natural disasters. According to The Global Risks Report 2019 from the World Economic Forum, these threats rank highly in terms of the impact they could have.

The French army is already equipping some of its soldiers with Black Hornets – personal reconnaissance drones that measure around 15cm (6 inches) in length, weigh just 33 grams (1 ounce), and allow the user to see over walls or around obstacles to identify hidden dangers.

And at the Bastille Day celebrations in Paris on 14 July, inventor and former jet-ski champion Franky Zapata – who is also a military reservist – soared above crowds on the Champs-Élysées, riding a hoverboard and brandishing a rifle.

Predictive texts

Keen to nurture the relationship between its military and technology, France wants the red team to think of all the potential ways the country and its people might come under attack.

Science fiction writers, with their creative imaginations and love of dystopian visions of the future, could be a great fit for the role. There are many examples of the way sci-fi novels, movies and TV series have predicted, and possibly even helped shape, the world we live in today.


Take the communicator device seen in the 1960s TV series Star Trek. It looked a lot like the Startac flip-phones Motorola launched in the 1990s. A prediction, or perhaps just an example of life imitating art.

Video-calling technology has been commonplace for many years and was featured heavily in Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. But it made its first cinematic appearance in Metropolis, the 1927 vision of the future directed by Fritz Lang.

Other predictions didn’t quite hit the mark, though. The Star Trek transporter beam (made famous with the line “beam me up, Scotty”) has yet to materialize.

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