Alibaba Founder Jack Ma Wants You to Relax About the Robot Revolution

The hand of humanoid robot AILA (artificial intelligence lightweight android) operates a switchboard during a demonstration by the German research centre for artificial intelligence at the CeBit computer fair in Hanover March, 5, 2013. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Files
REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/Files

As his half-trillion dollar corporation prepares to dive headfirst into the age of artificial employees, Alibaba founder Jack Ma would appreciate it if the millions of potentially displaced workers around the world would set aside what he called “empty worries” about robots.

People are getting more worried about the future, about technology replacing humans, eliminating jobs and widening the gap between the rich and the poor. 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 believes that “lack of confidence” and “imagination for the future” do not account for wisdom. Despite pouring billions into artificial intelligence, he purports that “people will always surpass machines because people possess wisdom.” He scoffed at AI AlphaGo’s victory in the ancient strategy game, saying: “AlphaGo? So what? 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.”

Neither is he worried about the economic ramifications. Ma believes your working hours will drastically shorten, but that your life will be “even busier than you are today” when it happens. As an example, he explained:

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 also asserts that there is no way we can possibly know what might happen in the future. “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. He said that our imagined future is “naive,” because “what we don’t know about it is far greater than what we do.”

It is an optimistic message — and an easy one, for someone who will not ever have to experience the effects.

Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.