Stop looking to manufacturing for jobs, says Jack Ma

Alibaba chairman Jack Ma speaking at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York on Wednesday. Addressing fears that "machines are going to control human beings", he said "people should have confidence".
Alibaba chairman Jack Ma speaking at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York on Wednesday. Addressing fears that "machines are going to control human beings", he said "people should have confidence".PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Alibaba chairman urges leaders to embrace promise of advances like artificial intelligence

NEW YORK • Alibaba Group Holding chairman Jack Ma, who wooed United States President Donald Trump earlier this year with a pledge to help create one million new US jobs by 2021, said people should stop looking to manufacturing to drive economic growth.

While the rapid speed of technological change is understandably causing concern over the future, Mr Ma called on leaders to embrace the promise of advances like artificial intelligence (AI) to span new industries. "These worries are very normal - 200 years ago when the steam machine came, people started thinking the steam machine is going to take a lot of jobs," he said at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum on Wednesday. "Because of artificial intelligence, because of the robots, manufacturing is no longer the main engine for jobs."

Instead, small businesses using the Internet to extend their markets will lead economic growth in this century, he said.

The message ties neatly into Alibaba's business plan, which hinges on making the Chinese firm the go-to online marketplace for entrepreneurs. Mr Ma's job plan for the US centres around helping small businesses navigate and sell into the Chinese market, where Alibaba says it has already contributed to the creation of 30 million jobs.

CHANGES AFOOT

Because of artificial intelligence, because of the robots, manufacturing is no longer the main engine for jobs.

MR JACK MA, Alibaba Group Holding chairman.

He also called out those who drum up fear about the prospect of AI replacing humans, and even eventually outsmarting and controlling their living creators. "I don't like the scientists, engineers and business leaders that scare people away about technology," he said. "People are worried machines are going to control human beings. I think people should have confidence."

Mr Ma did not name him, but Tesla chief executive officer Elon Musk said earlier this month that a race between competing nations for AI superiority would be the "most likely cause" of World War III.

In an interview with Bloomberg TV after the speech, Mr Ma weighed in on global politics as well. He said intermittent trade conflicts between China and the US are par for the course in a relationship between global powers. "The China-US relationship is very critical in this century, and I think we are making progress on that."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 22, 2017, with the headline 'Stop looking to manufacturing for jobs, says Jack Ma'. Print Edition | Subscribe