Alibaba’s Jack Ma, Softbank’s Masayoshi Son see people at the heart in age of AI

BEIJING (China Daily/ANN) – Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Softbank’s Masayoshi Son said innovation will be held at a greater premium in the future.

“People have to learn, and the best university is society,” said Ma, who retired in September as CEO of the Chinese e-commerce giant. People will be at the heart of the digital age of artificial intelligence (AI), two of Asia’s top tech titans and investors said last Friday, as they urged a fundamental shift in how schools and workplaces are run to breed curious minds.

Alibaba’s Jack Ma and Softbank’s Masayoshi Son – two kindred spirits and friends who regularly debate and discuss philosophy – said innovation will be held at a greater premium in the future.

“We used to teach people to remember more, calculate faster, make them more knowledgeable,” he said.

“But now we are making machines like people. So we have to change the way of education to make sure our kids are creative, constructive and innovative.”

Son, 62, concurred, saying that concerns that AI will cost jobs are overblown, noting that it would be similar to when Japan shifted away from an agrarian society with the Meiji Restoration of 1868.

He said, “New jobs will be created, and we will always find new exciting stuff to do.”

The duo were speaking at an hour-long dialogue session at the first Tokyo Forum, which is jointly organised by Japan’s University of Tokyo and South Korea’s Chey Institute for Advanced Studies.

Son was arguably instrumental to Alibaba’s eventual explosive growth, having invested USD20 million in the fledgling start-up in 2000. He continues to be a pivotal player in the global start-up ecosystem through the USD100 billion Softbank Vision Fund, which has invested in companies like Singapore ride-sharing firm Grab, Hong Kong-based travel firm Klook and Indian hotel chain Oyo.

But Son’s investment strategy has made headlines of late with the implosion of shared-office start-up WeWork, and write-downs in firms like Uber.

However, he said last Friday that he continues to prize his instinct-driven strategy, looking for the “passion, the gleam in the eye” over properly laid out business plans, as he had done with Alibaba.