The Imaginary Structure of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Imaginary Structure of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

Thomas Michaud (CNAM, France)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9188-7.ch002


Science fiction is increasingly involved in innovation processes in technological sectors. The imaginary, through design fiction, stimulates the creativity of decision makers and engineers who work to create a better world through technoscience. Science fiction participates in global innovation by constructing sectoral myths and by proposing a new form of rationality integrating the technical imaginary. Imaginnovation is a neologism, a synthesis of the terms imagination and innovation. This practice, already developed in several companies and organizations, will guide the decision-making process during the next industrial revolution. Science fiction appeared more than 200 years ago, when technical progress profoundly changed society. It later became an integral dimension of collective psychology. Its critical dimension must also be considered as a structuring element of the contemporary technical imagination. Innovation realizes imagination and science fiction allows the productive system to access the unconscious fantasies of individuals and social groups.
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This article looks at the impact of science fiction in the management of the fourth industrial revolution. Multiple technologies are presented as the elements of a major change in the global economy in the coming years. Most of them have been described in imaginary narratives, the oldest of which date back to the nineteenth century. Each technology announced as revolutionary will be the subject of an analysis of its imaginary representations (Alkon, 2002, 2010). The question will be whether science fiction anticipates scientific discoveries and technical progress. Better still, it will be suggested that economic cycles and industrial revolutions are stimulated by imaginaries often under-considered by the actors of innovation processes. Virtual reality, nanotechnologies, biotechnologies, cognitive sciences, the space sector, and many others are brought to radically change society. The fear of destructive automation of employment is a speech that often appears at the beginning of a new period of innovation. Technophobies and technological utopias find an ideal field of expression in science fiction. With the 4th industrial revolution, a new use of science fiction appears. Now, the most innovative companies are creating their own science fiction. They study the imaginary to develop their strategic visions, which must be mobilizing for their employees, but also for future clients. The next industrial revolution is already perceived as one that will achieve science fiction. Producing fiction is a necessity to maintain leadership in certain technological sectors such as ICT.

But science fiction also raises fears of the population vis-à-vis a techno-scientific sphere that could generate monstrosities if it was not controlled by citizens (Brake, 2008). The Frankenstein syndrome is constantly coming back to give a critical dimension to this imaginary. Some actors regret that this imaginary is developed in a capitalistic perspective, while others are enthusiastic about living in a world of science fiction realized.

This article will present at first some examples of science fiction works announcing or accompanying innovations in five sectors of the 4th industrial revolution. Then, it will focus on the mutations of this imaginary that has become a very influential imaginary matrix in the economics and evolution of techno-sciences. A question will be asked in this article: is the use of science fiction to innovate and manage compatible with ethical limits set by society? Can the 4th industrial revolution use the imaginary as a techno-political program, at the risk of sinking into a form of ultra-scientism potentially dangerous for humanity?

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