Alibaba Group’s 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, Ma 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,” Ma 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.”
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 Southeast Asia, potentially setting up a clash with the likes of Amazon.com.
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 it can withstand efforts by rivals such as Tencent Holdings. to capture digital ad spending and muscle in on its turf. The company is moving into untapped rural markets and investing in new sources of income, such as online media and cloud computing – one of its fastest-growing businesses in 2016.
Ma also called for traditional industries to stop complaining about the internet’s effects on the economy. He said Alibaba critics ignore that Alibaba’s consumer shopping offshoot, Taobao, has created “millions” of jobs.
He also warned that longer lifespans and better artificial intelligence were likely to lead to both aging 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.”