While Elon Musk is running around cautioning the world about the real danger of Skynet-style warrior robots, Jack Ma would like you to consider another possible problem: CEOs might lose their overpaid gigs and there will be no golden parachute. Well, let’s be honest, there probably will be a golden parachute... somehow.
Ma, the chairman of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, spoke at an entrepreneurship conference in Zhengzhou, China this weekend and he urged the crowd to wake up to what’s happening in AI and automation. “Fifteen years ago I gave speeches 200 or 300 times reminding everyone the Internet will impact all industries, but people didn’t listen because I was a nobody,” he told attendees. Now, Ma thinks a similar seismic shift is occurring in tech and it could be much more disastrous.
According to The Guardian:
Artificial intelligence and other technologies will cause people “more pain than happiness” over the next three decades, according to Jack Ma, the billionaire chairman and founder of Alibaba.
“Social conflicts in the next three decades will have an impact on all sorts of industries and walks of life,” said Ma ... A key social conflict will be the rise of artificial intelligence and longer life expectancy, which will lead to an aging workforce fighting for 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.”
Pretty much everyone but the U.S. treasury secretary recognizes that automation is already a problem. It’s taking factory workers’ jobs no matter how many politicians try to tell you that bad trade deals are to blame. Retail and service industry jobs appear to be up next. And if the self-driving car industry gets its act together (it will), 1.7 million truck driving jobs in the U.S. will be on the chopping block. Estimates vary on how many people will lose out and when, but it’s usually millions and soon. For instance, a 2016 World Economic Forum study projects five million jobs will be lost to automation by 2020. That’s terrifying.
But you have to admit, his argument that CEOs will be replaced is a lot less terrifying. “In 30 years, a robot will likely be on the cover of Time Magazine as the best CEO,” Ma told the attendees, according to CNN. As a device to wake up a bunch of entrepreneurs to the reality of the future, this might be a good approach. But hell, this doesn’t sound so bad. AI could replace CEOs who make millions and get extra millions when they screw up. Then, the money from their salary could go a long way toward keeping others in the company employed while we figure this whole thing out.
For now, Ma suggests a rule while we adapt with AI: “Machines should only do what humans cannot,” he suggested. “Only in this way can we have the opportunities to keep machines as working partners with humans, rather than as replacements.” Arguably, humans have done a bad job as CEOs, always shift the blame on something or someone else. (Seriously, I couldn’t think of who to link for the latest CEO to pawn off their problems and a Google search of “CEO blames” returned many fresh results.)
Bring on the Robo-CEOs.
[The Guardian, Bloomberg, CNN]