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Alibaba billionaire Jack Ma claims that concerns over AI eliminating jobs are "empty worries"

Jack Ma, the billionaire entrepreneur behind China’s Alibaba marketplace, has suggested that artificial intelligence won’t make most people redundant – contrary to many of the apocalyptic warnings from Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, among others. 

Ma was making the keynote speech at Alibaba Cloud’s Computing Conference in Hangzhou, China. He argued that human beings ought to have more confidence in their abilities, particularly the ‘wisdom’ they possess that AI will never have.

“People are getting more worried about the future, about technology replacing humans, eliminating jobs and widening the gap between the rich and the poor,” said Ma. “But I think these are empty worries. Technology exists for people. We worry about technology because we lack confidence in ourselves, and imagination for the future.”

Ma, quoted in the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post, added that humans possess one thing that cannot be programmed. “People will always surpass machines because people possess wisdom,” he said.

That wisdom, he added, is reflected not by the losses of the world’s best Go players to the IA-powered AlphaGo computer, but in the creation of the game in the first place. “AlphaGo should compete against AlphaGo 2.0, not us. There’s no need to be upset that we lost. It shows that we’re smart, because we created it,” he said.

However, while humanity isn’t about to be handed a collective P45 by an intelligent robot, it could start to enjoy much shorter working weeks as more intelligent tools are adopted, conjectured Ma.

Some time within the next 30 years, he suggested, people will have both shorter working weeks and shorter working days – but still feel busier than ever.

“My grandfather worked 16 hours a day on a farm and felt that he was very busy. He had only one day off a week. I have two days off a week, I work for eight hours a day, and I feel even busier than my grandfather,” he said.

Ma joins Mark Zuckerberg and Linus Torvalds on the more optimistic side of the AI/apocalypse debate.

Ultimately, thought, Ma said that no-one really knows what the future will hold. “Anything that can be clearly defined is not the future. When faced with the future, we’re all kids; no one’s an expert,” he said.

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