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Science fiction has been an important vehicle for anticipating technological developments. When imagining the future of global governance in his world-acclaimed best-seller The Three Body Problem, what did Liu Cixin, China’s most prominent sci-fi writer, take into consideration? With information technology making the world smaller, global cooperation is becoming increasingly important – particularly as the development path of rising nations may conflict with the values of the dominant west. Virtual reality, AI and 3D printing will all play a role in the future of global cooperation, but spatial exploration may be the technology most likely to unify the planet.

Liu Cixin is a Chinese science fiction writer, nine-time winner of the Galaxy Award, China’s most prestigious literary science fiction award. His most famous work, The Three Body Problem, was first serialized on the Chinese Internet in 2006, then published in 2008. The book was translated and published in English in November 2014, and won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. 

The Three Body Problem has been described by some critics as ‘the Chinese Star Wars’. President Obama counts among the enthusiastic readers of the book, whose immense scope, he said, put day-to-day political challenges in perspective, and Liu Cixin has been invited by the Chinese government aerospace agency to consult on science missions. A film adaptation of The Three Body Problem is currently in preparation, and is expected to be the first major science fiction production coming out of China. 

Science fiction has been an important vehicle for anticipating future technological developments, and the UN features prominently in The Three Body Problem. On this basis, we invited Liu Cixin to further describe what he envisaged as the future of global governance. 

Global Challenges Foundation: How did you envision global cooperation in the future? What did you need to take into account when you were thinking about describing the UN in the far future?

Liu Cixin:
I think global cooperation is a major future trend. With the development of Internet information technology, the world is increasingly getting smaller. The information network is uniting the world as a single entity. At the same time, mankind is also facing common challenges and opportunities. Environmental issues and the establishment of sustainable economic systems are turning mankind into a community of shared interests. Countries, groups and individuals are increasingly aware that we can only have a bright future if we consider issues from the perspective of all mankind.

The United Nations is an international organization that was established after the Second World War. At that time, its main focus was on international security. However, in the future, the world needs more cooperation in the fields of economic development, technological progress and environmental protection. The United Nations must undertake major reforms in order to adapt to the future international community.

GCF: What do you consider the biggest hurdles facing global cooperation in the coming century?

Liu Cixin:
In the course of global development, different countries will inescapably explore and discover development paths most suitable for themselves. In this process, differences between civilizations and cultures will be more apparent than before. Inevitably, the development paths of different countries and ethnic groups will be in contradiction and conflict with the values of the West, as well as Western political and economic systems, which are currently dominant. This will become the biggest obstacle to future global cooperation.

Exploring the space frontier may be the ultimate way for mankind to finally address major global challenges.

GCF: Which technological tools do you consider as potentially helpful for the global community to be able to coordinate action and share goals?

Liu Cixin: 
Information and Internet technology is an important technical force to promote global cooperation. Today, the Internet has already made unprecedented exchange of information between different regions of the world smooth and convenient, turning the world into a village in terms of information flows. Existing and upcoming new technologies will accelerate this trend. For example, the growing virtual reality technology will allow face-to-face communication among people at a long distance. The development of artificial intelligence and increasingly sophisticated machine translation technology will enable people from different regions and ethnic groups to overcome the language barrier. The development of 3D printing technology is likely to enable hardware items to be transmitted over the Internet.

In the long run, another technological area that will promote global cooperation is likely to be space technology. Exploring the space frontier may be the ultimate way for mankind to finally address major global challenges. For example, environmental and global warming issues could eventually be resolved by moving high pollution and high emission industries to the space orbit. The current scope of space exploration and development is still limited; this huge market has yet to take off. Once the space market jets off, its scale may be stupendously broader than that of the IT industry, and its impact on human life may be even more profound. However, early investment in space exploration is extremely large; global cooperation is needed to achieve the cause. In the areas of space exploration and development, the future may see unprecedented large-scale global cooperation. If we say that the Internet unites the world, then mankind will discover a common future in space.

Liu Cixin

Liu Cixin is China’s foremost science fiction writer. His most famous work, The Three Body Problem, first serialized on the Chinese Internet in 2006, was translated and published in English in November 2014, and won the 2015 Hugo Award for Best Novel. It has been described by some critics as ‘the Chinese Star Wars’, and a film adaptation is currently in preparation.