Merchant Innovation

Jack Ma Thinks AI Could Cause “More Pain Than Happiness”

While most tech enthusiasts and entrepreneurs can not quite sing enough of the praises of the AI-enhanced and fully automated world, there is at least one dissenting voice in the love fest.  And it’s a notable one.  Alibaba founder and CEO Jack Ma is concerned that the machines built and managed by robots might be much worse for humans than anyone is really thinking about.

“Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life,” said Ma, speaking at an entrepreneurship conference in China about the job disruptions that would be created by automation and the internet.

Artificial intelligence combined with longer expectancy, noted Ma, could easily lead to a situation where older people are fighting for an ever-shrinking pool of jobs.

Ma put aside his characteristic optimism because he believes businesses need to hear this warning about the future. He noted that 15 years ago he gave hundreds of speeches warning about the impact of eCommerce on traditional retailers, but he didn’t get much traction because he was less famous then.
Now he is using his fame to deliver a rather iconoclastic message.

“Machines should only do what humans cannot,” he said. “Only in this way can we have the opportunities to keep machines as working partners with humans, rather than as replacements.”

Even so, Ma acknowledged that in the future, companies will likely be run by robots.

“Thirty years later, the Time magazine cover for the best CEO of the year very likely will be a robot,” he said. Robots can make calculations more quickly and rationally than humans. Robots don’t get mad or irrationally act out against a competitor because they are angry.

Ma’s comments come as studies keep indicating that jobs will be eliminated in the word of ascendant AI.  A Forrester study that suggested 6% of all jobs in the U.S. would be eliminated by 2021.


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