More pain than happiness: Jack Ma on AI

Unlike Kai-Fu Li, Alibaba chairman and founder Jack Ma didn’t make any attempt to sugar-coat the potential impact of AI earlier this week, warning that it will lead to “more pain than happiness” for people over the next thirty years.

In his characteristically blunt style, Ma cautioned that AI combined with longer life expectancy will cause social conflicts “that will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life” as an aging work force competes for an ever-dwindling pool of jobs.

To add more salt to the wounds, he even went on to predict that the CEO of the Year on the cover of Time Magazine in thirty years will be a robot, because robots can process more data and make decisions more quickly and rationally than an emotional human.

Leaving aside the pedantic point that Time Magazine doesn’t even announce a CEO of the Year, Ma appeared to be suggesting that all humans, even those in the most exalted positions, are replaceable by robots. Except, he went on to say that “machines should only do what humans cannot” so that they can work as “partners with humans, rather than as replacements.”

How can one possibly begin to square this circle? Will the machines take over the earth or will humans and robots find some Golden Mean in which they learn to live each with other in perfect harmony? Answers on a post card please!

For all his headline-making pronouncements, Ma did also give some sensible advice that business executives should learn more about AI and find young people in their organizations who can explain the technology to them. For all the threats it poses, the AI genie is already out of the bottle. Better to embrace it than bury your head in the sand.

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