For those fretting the prospect of an unbearably long work-schedule that Alibaba co-founder Jack Ma had advocated earlier this year, there is reason not to be too worried. Advancements in Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology could come to their rescue. In March, Ma had created a flutter by endorsing a schedule for his employees that involved working 12 hours each day from 9 am to 9 pm for six days a week—what has come to be known as his “996" formula. But Ma has apparently gazed into a crystal ball and had a rethink. He now foresees the possibility of a 12-hour work schedule for the week. At the World Artificial Intelligence Conference in Shanghai on Thursday, Ma said that people could do by working as little as three days a week, four hours a day.

What has resulted in this seeming about-turn? Advances in technology. These have been at the centre of the debate over the threat posed to employment, as technology enables machines to perform productive jobs better than humans. Ma, though, does not share those fears. “I don’t worry about jobs," Ma reportedly said. “Computers only have chips, men have the heart. It’s the heart where the wisdom comes from."

True, some of our redundancy fears exist only in the realm of fiction. Yet, the prospect of a significant burden of human work getting shifted to machines in the future can’t be denied altogether. Many jobs that involve repetitive tasks—either physical or mental—that followed fixed patterns could be taken up by AI. This, Ma forecasts, would leave more leisure time at the disposal of humans. Technically, that could happen. But first, we will have to overthrow the notion that wages are paid for time put in, rather than goals achieved.

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