Jack Ma: Asia has ‘chance to win’ in emerging era of super machines

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 March, 2017, 10:57pm

Asia may have missed the boat in dominating the current internet age, but the vast region’s increasingly wired societies must not squander the “chance to win” in a new era where superiority in building data-driven machines will define success, Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma said on Thursday.

After an era in which the internet powered the global economy, landmark developments in areas like machine learning have made data the centre of the technology world, Ma told a business conference in Malaysia.

Machine learning is a subset of artificial intelligence – the idea that computers can be programmed to emulate sentient behaviour.

Machines are going to be more powerful and smarter than 30 years
Alibaba Group executive chairman Jack Ma

“In Asia we are now moving from the IT time to the DT time. It’s not Donald Trump time. Data Time,” said Ma, the executive chairman of Alibaba – the owner of the South China Morning Pos t.

“With the IT time, Asia lost our chance. We don’t have an IBM, we don’t have a Microsoft, we don’t have Cisco, we don’t have an Intel. But on the DT time, we have a chance to win,” he said.

“Look at Asia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. So many farmers are using mobile phones. If we can use the mobile technology to collect data, things are going to change.”

Speaking to a full house at the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, Ma said “these changes are going to come faster than you thought”.

The 52-year-old founder of the Chinese e-commerce giant said the technology evolution was going so fast that data analysts who are currently buoyed by the notion that they picked the right field may find themselves disappointed.

“I am going to tell you there is going to be no data analysis in the next 10 years. The machines can do a much better job than you are,” he said.

“Machines are going to be more powerful and smarter than 30 years, the best CEO of the year or the cover man of Time Magazine will be a machine.

“So if you in the future want to compete with the machine on who is more knowledgeable, you have no chance to win.”

But culture and values will set human beings apart in the machine era, he said.

“Imagination, creativity and teamwork. These are the things we should teach our kids,” Ma said. “If we are not going to change our education system, our kids are going to complain, and it’s not their fault. It’s our fault.”

Ma’s speech was the closing keynote at the two-day Global Transformation Forum organised by the Malaysian government. The Chinese technologist in November agreed to Prime Minister Najib Razak’s request to act as the country’s digital economy adviser.

“I think I will come here more, and when he [Najib] comes to China I will grab every opportunity to talk to government officials on what we believe and what we want to share,” Ma told reporters after his speech.