Technology

Jack Ma sees decades of pain as Internet disrupts economy

Mr Jack Ma (centre) at the China Green Companies Summit in Zhengzhou on Sunday. He said the world must establish how to work with robots, adding that machines should only do what humans cannot.
Mr Jack Ma (centre) at the China Green Companies Summit in Zhengzhou on Sunday. He said the world must establish how to work with robots, adding that machines should only do what humans cannot.PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Alibaba founder says education systems must change to soften the blow

BEIJING • Alibaba Group Holding chairman Jack Ma said society should prepare for decades of pain as the Internet disrupts the economy.

The world must change education systems and establish how to work with robots to help soften the blow caused by automation and the Internet economy, he said in a speech to an entrepreneurship conference in Zhengzhou, China.

"In the next 30 years, the world will see much more pain than happiness," he said of job disruptions caused by the Internet. "Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life."

Mr Ma made the comments as Alibaba, China's largest e-commerce operator, spends billions of dollars to move into new businesses from film production and video streaming to cloud computing.

The Hangzhou-based company, considered a barometer of Chinese consumer sentiment, is looking to expand abroad since buying Lazada Group to establish a foothold in South-east Asia, potentially setting up a clash with the likes of Amazon.com.

Mr Ma, 52, also hit out at the traditional banking industry, saying that lending must be available to more members of society.

Alibaba shares have outperformed this year on expectations that it can withstand efforts by rivals such as Tencent Holdings to capture digital ad spending and muscle in on its turf. The firm is moving into untapped rural markets and investing in new sources of income, like online media and cloud computing - one of its fastest-growing businesses last year.

Mr Ma also called for traditional industries to stop complaining about the Internet's effects on the economy. He said Alibaba critics have ignored the fact that Taobao has created millions of jobs.

He also warned that longer lifespans and better artificial intelligence were likely to lead to both ageing labour forces and fewer jobs.

"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."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 25, 2017, with the headline 'Jack Ma sees decades of pain as Internet disrupts economy '. Print Edition | Subscribe