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The French Army is hiring science fiction writers to imagine future threats

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The ‘Red Team’ will come up with ideas that military planners might not imagine

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FRANCE-BASTILLE-DAY-AERIAL Photo credit should read KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP/Getty Images

The French military wants to figure out what its armed forces might face in the future. To help, it’s bringing on a group of people who are well-versed in imagining the future: science fiction writers. The UK’s Telegraph reports that France’s Defence Innovation Agency is hiring between four and five writers to form a “Red Team” that will come up with “scenarios of disruption,” which is military-speak for out-of-the-box thinking.

France set up the Defence Innovation Agency in September 2018 as a sort of incubation hub to find existing technologies and equipment that the military might be able to use. The idea is that the military might be able to find and adopt technologies faster than the typical acquisition channels, which is a process that can take years.

But knowing what technologies or gadgets to use is only useful if you have an idea of what problems you might face on the battlefield. That’s apparently where the science fiction writers come in. But they won’t be coming up with stories about how we might fight off alien civilizations from other planets. The Telegraph says that they will “try and anticipate how terrorist groups or hostile states might use advanced technology against France.”

The idea here isn’t that the group of authors will somehow predict the future. Rather, by using science fiction as a tool, they’ll come up with ideas that regular military strategists might not otherwise imagine.

Using science fiction and writers in this way is a practice that’s already in use in several other countries in a field called Strategic Foresight. The Canadian military hired science fiction writer Karl Schroeder to write up a short novel called Crisis in Zefra in 2005. That short book laid out a scenario that Canadian peacekeepers might face in a near-future conflict, incorporating how drones, cellphones, and internet access might play a role in an urban war zone.

The United States has also utilized the help of science fiction writers: authors Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle established the Citizens’ Advisory Council on National Space Policy during the Reagan administration, while the Pentagon brought in a handful of science fiction writers and film directors to think up potential threats in the immediate aftermath of the September 11th attacks. More recently, authors August Cole and Peter W. Singer authored an influential book called Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War, which drew on their work in think tanks to imagine what a third world war between China, Russia, and the United States might look like.

The French military has recently been working to modernize its forces. French President Emmanuel Macron announced the creation of a new space command, while the country’s Cyber Command marched in last year’s Bastille Day celebrations. This year, Franky Zapata, the French inventor behind the Flyboard Air, flew over crowds during this year’s Bastille Day military parade carrying a gun — something that could have easily come right from the pages of a science fiction novel.