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Billionaire Jack Ma says CEOs could be robots in 30 years, warns of decades of ‘pain’ from A.I., internet impact

  • Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma said in the next 30 years, society will feel "pain" caused by technology.
  • Ma said that in 30 years, a robot CEO could be on the cover of Time Magazine.

Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma warned on Monday that society could see decades of pain thanks to disruption caused by the internet and new technologies to different areas of the economy.

In a speech at a China Entrepreneur Club event, the billionaire urged governments to bring in education reform and outlined how humans need to work with machines.

"In the coming 30 years, the world's pain will be much more than happiness, because there are many more problems that we have come across," Ma said in Chinese, speaking about potential job disruptions caused by technology.

The Alibaba founder warned that social conflicts could have a "huge impact" on all walks of life. Ma's company has invested in areas such as cloud computing and artificial intelligence as it expands into new sectors beyond its e-commerce business.

Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
David A. Grogan | CNBC
Jack Ma, Chairman of Alibaba Group at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Ma said around 15 years ago he gave two or three hundred speeches warning about the impact of e-commerce and the internet on traditional businesses, but not many people listened as he wasn't well-known.

The billionaire warned that any business not linked to the internet could suffer in the future.

Ma also spoke about the rise of robots and artificial intelligence (AI) and said that this technology will be needed to process the large amount of data being generated today, something that a human brain can't do. But machines shouldn't replace what humans can do, Ma said, but instead the technology community needs to look at making machines do what humans cannot. This would make the machine a "human partner" rather than an opponent.

But he did admit that AI was likely to lead to people living longer and fewer jobs around. And robots could also replace chief executives of companies.

"30 years later, the Time Magazine cover for the best CEO of the year very likely will be a robot. It remembers better than you, it counts faster than you, and it won't be angry with competitors," Ma said.