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The futur of the improbable by Katia Elkaim


When I was a child, my parents took me to see a documentary that described, in the most burlesque way, totally crazy and useless inventions. I enjoyed it and I still have the feeling of well-being in the pit of my stomach that I got from that intense fun. Then, like a reminder, a journalist's column the other morning about a ‘connected barbecue’, made me think of that great cinematic moment and I wanted to find the movie at all costs.

I’ll immediately cut the suspense short: I still don't know its title! However, I did get my hands on a few nuggets that I’d like to share with you.

First of all, I discovered Matt Benedetto and his useless inventions, which he himself defines as "objects that nobody asked for" and "solutions to problems that don't really exist". I can't resist the urge to describe the big toe helmet, to avoid the pain of bumping it, or the Zoom meeting ‘shutter’.

The web is full of inventions that all have one thing in common: they are absolutely useless, if not perfectly cumbersome.

The 19th and 20th centuries were also fertile in this category. The amphibious bicycle, the couple's pipe, the meowing machine or the piano for bedridden people; all had an inimitable charm and poetry.

From 2016 to 2019, the prize-winning inventions of the Lépine competition were the H-energy Mobile Granulator, the Web Application for diabetic protocols, the Eydi Beacon for locating and signalling to the emergency services and the xTag, a personalised profile applied to the management of food allergies and intolerances. While these discoveries are undoubtedly very ingenious and useful, they do not have the charm of the chimeric objects of yesteryear.

In 1964, the winner was a certain Lasserre who invented the "Somnidor", a machine that induced sleep.

We have indeed entered the era of the ‘technological all-technology’ and this consideration has brought me back to the connected barbecue that allows us to communicate remotely with our grilling sausages. The big question is: is there still room in our all-virtual world for a comical and crazy imagination, or have we entered a radically serious era where invention is now only the prerogative of a closed circle of engineers?

To my great relief, I have found that computer scientists are not humorless, or at least that just because an object is hyper-connected or the fruit of artificial intelligence, it does not mean that it is necessarily more useful.

For example, there is a device that you can install in your bathroom, ladies, that scans your beauty products and launches a make-up tutorial on your mirror every morning. Honestly, which one of you dear friends will take the time between the shower, the children's breakfast, and the ride to school before going to work, to look carefully at how to put a concealer under your eyes?

Even better, the voiding predictor, just in case you have an absolute necessity to predict a pressing urge before it actually urges and the craving to hook up a catheter, but that's all I'm saying.

I think my preference is for this Japanese invention, the "speechjammer", which allows a slight echo of a speaker's voice to be reflected back into a meeting, causing confusing and subliminally prompting chatty ones to remain silent. I confess that I am very tempted by its acquisition.

In short, technology or not, the human imagination remains overflowing and that's good, but I say it out loud: Don't count on me to have a conversation with my toilet paper.

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