12-hour work week could be the norm, Jack Ma predicts

The billionaire has been an outspoken advocate for 12-hour-a-day six-days-a-week workweeks

Elon Musk (R), Co-founder and CEO of Tesla, and Jack Ma, co-chair of the UN High-Level Panel on Digital Cooperation, speak onstage during the the World Artificial Intelligence Conference (WAIC) in Shanghai on August 29, 2019.  / AFP / HECTOR RETAMAL

Billionaire Jack Ma, long an outspoken advocate for China’s extreme work culture, says that people should be able to work just 12 hours a week with the benefits of artificial intelligence.

People could work as little as three days a week, four hours a day with the help of technology advances and a reform in education systems, the Alibaba co-founder said at the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai Thursday. He spoke on-stage with Elon Musk, the chief executive officer of Tesla Inc. who is building manufacturing facilities in the city.

Mr Ma cited electricity as an example of how developments in technology can free up time for leisure. “The power of electricity is that we make people more time so that you can go to karaoke or dancing party in the evening. I think because of artificial intelligence, people will have more time enjoying being human beings.”

“For the next 10, 20 years, every human being, country, government should focus on reforming the education system, making sure our kids can find a job, a job that only requires three days a week, four hours a day,” Mr Ma said. “If we don’t change the education system we are in, we will all be in trouble.”

Just this year, Mr Ma endorsed the China tech sector’s infamous 12-hours-a-day, six-days-a-week routine, so common it earned the moniker 996. In one blog post, China’s richest man this year dismissed people who expect a typical eight-hour office lifestyle, defying a growing popular backlash.

“I don’t worry about jobs,” Mr Ma said on Thursday, making an optimistic case that AI will help humans rather than just eliminate their work. “Computers only have chips, men have the heart. It’s the heart where the wisdom comes from.”

Mr Ma said the current education system was outdated - modeled for the industrial period - and he foresees a day when machines can outsmart humans in areas of memory and repetitive skills. He said future education systems need to help people become more creative. Mr Musk agreed with Mr Ma, not forgetting to tout his Neuralink project that is trying to merge the human brain with AI.

“The way education works right now, it’s really low bandwidth, it’s extremely slow, lectures are the worst,” said Mr Musk. “Down the road with Neuralink you can just upload any subject instantly, it will be like the Matrix.”