Jack Ma says he believes artificial intelligence (AI) poses no threat to humanity, but Elon Musk called that "famous last words" as the billionaire tech tycoons faced off on Thursday in an occasionally animated debate on futurism in Shanghai.

The Chinese co-founder of Alibaba and the maverick industrialist behind Tesla and SpaceX frequently pulled pained expressions and raised eyebrows as they kicked off an AI conference with a dialogue that challenged those attending to keep up, veering from technology and Mars to death and jobs.

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