Event Report | From Ants to Robots: Unravelling the Tangled Future
Bernard Werber (France) and Fei Dao (China)
Two legendary science fiction writers, Bernard Werber from France and Chinese literary talent Fei Dao （飞氘）, joined moderator Wu Zhenghao（武峥灏）at the 7th EU-China International Literary Festival to discuss their ground-breaking work. These two authors have both built up ardent followings with their creative writing styles that blend science fiction, philosophy, mythology and consciousness with powerful storytelling. Since the publication of the “Ants” trilogy, Bernard Werber has been one of the most widely read authors in France and is translated all over the world. Fei Dao, the author of multi-award-winning collections such as The Storytelling Robot（《讲故事的机器人》） and The Long Journey to Death（《去死的漫漫旅途》） is widely known for his captivating use of the science fiction genre to contemplate our future and address pressing societal issues.
Speaking of early sources of inspiration for generations of science fiction writers in China, Fei Dao said Jules Verne was massively influential.
“As early as 120 years ago the very famous French writer Jules Verne’s novels were translated into Chinese. Up until today, before Liu Cixin’s The Three Body Problem, I think for Chinese that Jules Verne is probably the most famous science fiction writer.
To some extent, he represents science fiction,” Fei Dao said, adding that he was also deeply impressed by the work of French writer Pierre Boulle and the French film director Luc Besson.
Bernard Werber said he had been reading and enjoying Chinese literature for many years and said “I would say that Chinese thought and Western thought are very complementary. It’s a bit like the relationship between yin and yang, and that’s why it’s so interesting. There is an Eastern perspective, a Far Eastern perspective, and a Western perspective.”
But he added that he thought the science fiction genre seemed to transcend national borders and identities and has no national distinctions, only ideological and spiritual distinctions.
“But if a country doesn’t have science fiction this means that this country only lives in the past, or in the present just repeating old things. On the contrary, if a country has many science fiction writers there are many possible paths. It will be able to expand your imagination. I believe we will be saved by imagination,” he said.
Werner is best-known for his Les Fourmis (The Ants) trilogy, which has been a bestseller all around the world and was published in China in 2021 by Post Wave. Werner said he was struck by how much humanity can learn from ants as a society.
“For ants, I am interested in it as a very ancient civilization. The oldest human originates from three million years ago. However, the oldest ant city-state originated 120 million years ago. I think they have survived this long because they had to face a lot of difficulties and they always found solutions. So they can survive until now. So I think our human civilization, as a young civilization, needs to learn from ant civilization so that we can see problems that may arise in the future.”
Fei Dao discussed some of his recent works, which often revolve around robots, and explained how through fictional robots we could examine the moral state of humanity.
“Although today the world is called ‘human civilization’, but within civilisation there is a lot of savage, uncivilized things. If we give all these things to the successor of the next civilization, say give it to the robotic civilization, what can they learn? Is it a new civilization or a new form of barbarism?”
The authors discussed how technology alone would not save humanity but rather we as a species had to learn how to better interact with nature and each other.
“When we better solve our internal problems, only then if science and technology take us to the sun or farther, only then can our civilization spread these excellent things into the wider universe,” Fei Dao said.
On the question of whether science could potentially save or kill us as a species, Werner argued that science itself was neutral. “Science is not the solution. Science is just a tool. If you have a hammer you can use it to build a house or you can smash a person’s skull. If you have fire you can make a dish or you can burn down a house. If you have nuclear power you can use it to generate electricity or you can make an atomic bomb. That is to say science itself is neutral. It will neither save nor kill us… That’s why I say that revolutions will not be technological revolutions, it will be a psychological revolution. It’s a revolution of mentalities,” he said.
“If we program these machines to help us and allow us to build a better society, these machines will also perform that. I don’t believe that technology alone will save us.”
The 7th EU-China International Literary Festival brought leading European and Chinese writers together to embrace the core theme of “Explore·Imagine·Inspire – Science Fiction, Fantasy and Worlds Beyond”.