Alibaba founder and billionaire Jack Ma spoke with CNBC at the Gateway '17 Conference in Detroit and he had some interesting – and alarming – predictions for the next 30 years. Here are 4 takeaways from that conversation and his appearance in Detroit.
1) There will be greater opportunities for small businesses.
Small businesses will gain more traction as ecommerce becomes an even-greater force in the economy. "Large scale was the model," Ma said, referring to business behemoths like Amazon and Walmart, "Personalized, custom-made is the future." Indeed, Ma is banking on a small business boom. In a meeting with President Donald Trump early this year, Ma stated that Alibaba's proposed expansion to the United States could create a million American jobs over the bext five years. "We specifically talked about ... supporting 1 million small businesses, especially in the Midwest of America," Ma told reporters after the meeting. "Small businesses on the platform selling products — agriculture products and America services — to China and Asia, because we're pretty big in Asia." Alibaba later clarified Ma's position in a statement, saying, "Alibaba will create 1 million U.S. jobs by enabling 1 million American small businesses and farmers to sell American goods to China and Asian consumers on the Alibaba platform."
"China is shifting from exporting to importing. China is going to to be the world’s largest consumption place and that engine is going to drive the world economy.”
In his interview with CNBC at Gateway '17, he doubled down on his promise. "The way to figure out the job creation, one of the best ways, is to help small business to sell their local products across the board. ...And we have to prepare now. Because the next 30 years is going to be painful."
Whether or not these jobs materialize, the hype around Alibaba is paying off for investors. Ma's ongoing talk of U.S. expansion has had a bullish effect on Alibaba Group Holdings' stock (BABA): Barron's notes that it's up 58% this year.
2) Artificial Intelligence is coming...and possibly World War III.
"The new wave is coming. Jobs will be taken away," Ma told CNBC. "Some people, who catch up [with] the wave, will be rich, will be more successful. For some people, it will be more painful. The government, you know, the world is going to be data. The people will now have more data than the bosses."
This "painful" transition could have extremely grim consequences.
"The first technology revolution caused World War I," Ma said. "The second technology revolution caused World War II. This is the third technology revolution."
The looming rise of A.I. and globalization, Ma said, is why he spends so much time traveling and meeting with global leaders. "This is why I'm traveling, talking to all the government and state leaders and telling them move fast. If they do not move fast, there's going to be trouble. So when we see something is coming, we have to prepare now. My belief is that you have to repair the roof while it is still functioning." He also warned of overstepping with automation. "I don't think we should make machines like humans. We should make sure the machine can do things that human beings cannot do."
Despite the gloom, Ma advised the flesh and blood Conference goers that they'd probably be ok. "It's about wisdom. It's about experience," he said. "So I don't think the machine — the artificial intelligence — is gonna replace the wisdom."
3) World War III aside, we may have the 4 hour work day and 4 day work week to look forward to.
The rise of A.I. and automation will also usher in more free time. "I think in the next 30 years, people only work four hours a day and maybe four days a week," Ma said in his talk with CNBC. "My grandfather worked 16 hours a day in the farmland and [thought he was] very busy. We work eight hours, five days a week and think we are very busy."
4) The opportunities are abundant for those who are intrepid enough to go after them.
The Detroit Free Press reported that Ma's speech to conference attendees exhorted them to move fast and move now. "Small business, you have nothing to lose," he told them.
"The only thing you have to lose is the opportunity. Lose the hope, lose the future."
The 52-year-old Ma, who started Alibaba in 1999 with money raised from 17 friends, is listed as #15 on Bloomberg's Billionaires Index with a net worth of some $41.8 billion. Time.com reports that his net worth has grown $8.5 billion this year alone.
In short, he may well be worth listening to.
Watch his interview with CNBC below: