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“Science fiction has a lot to teach us about the economy of the high-tech sector”

Chronic. Gotlib, author of the imperishable Topic-knacks, caricatured economists in the guise of an egg skull in a black suit and square glasses hiding blind pupils – we easily recognized Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, then finance minister of Pompidou -, responding imperturbably to the arguments of his interlocutor: “So there my dear, you're in the middle of science fiction. “ Science is mine, fiction is you? The rhetoric is not new, and yet science fiction teaches us a lot about the economy: this is shown in issue 96 of the review Companies and History, devoted to representations of the company in science fiction novels and films.

The role of technical invention is of course at the center of the interest of the authors of these fictions. To the utopia of the happiness of men ensured by progress, proclaimed (not without ambiguities) by Jules Verne, responds the concern of the creature escaping the hands and the intentions of its inventor, Dr. Frankenstein. From the 1920s to the 1940s, the cinema also staged what we would today call “liberated companies” of arbitrariness or managerial incompetence, in favor of utopias of cooperative self-management prolonging dreams Fourier phalansteries (Job, Mr. Lange's Crime, Life is Beautiful) where “a job well done” is rid of class relationships.

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In contrast, after the war, Atlas Shrugged (1957), by Ayn Rand, opens the way in the United States for a flood of novels and films extolling the capacity of individual inventor-entrepreneurs to change the world, despite the obstacles of the state, bureaucracy, monopolies installed – a genre of literature nicknamed “edisonades”, named after Edison, a mythical prototype of the hero. An author like Ben Bova, unknown in France, publishes some 124 novels, the popularity of which corresponds to the triumph, at the same time, of Chicago economists advocating the free market, deregulation and entrepreneurship, the culture bath of start-upers of Silicon Valley.

“The hidden side of the present”

But with Isaac Asimov and Philip K. Dick resurface at the same time the Frankensteinian concern and, in its wake, the cyberpunk movement, born in 1984 under the pen of William Gibson, who describes, in Neuromancer, control by giant companies of computer networks powered by biochips, while the Internet and biotechnology are still in their infancy. The film Matrix (1999) describes alienation to a virtual world enslaved by a firm. This cyberpunk literature is the basis for both the denunciation, today at the top of the political agendas, of mega-corporations like the GAFA, but also the utopia of a liberation of the individual thanks to access and decentralized information sharing.

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