Jim Yong Kim said that while advances in technology, such as artificial intelligence, created many opportunities, it presented just as many threats.
“We think the actual impact of automation… will mostly be to get rid of jobs, lots and lots of low skilled jobs will be lost because tasks will be done by machines,” he said.
“We may be able to get ahead of it but not unless we start running really quickly.”
Investing in “human capital” is hugely important to the wealth of nations, he said, but in order to face the challenge of automation, the leaders of nations will have to start looking at how they manage workers differently.
Kim, who has been at the helm of the World Bank for five years, made his remarks in a lecture given at Columbia University in New York.
In a wide-ranging address, he said there would soon come a time where virtually everyone throughout the world would have access to a smartphone and be able to see how others live, what opportunities they have and what challenges they face.
“When you see how well other people are living, you have higher aspirations, higher ambitions – there are a lot of good effects,” he said.
“But, the other thing we see is that if your aspirations start to rise but there is no opportunity, it can lead to fragility, conflict, violence.”
He referenced the Arab spring which, he said, was rooted in a lot of people who had a college education but were unemployed.
This is the “crash course” the world is going down, said Kim, of high aspiration competing against low opportunity.
Kim went on to reference the worldwide Occupy movement that sought to highlight how globalisation, the super wealthy and big business, it believes, does little to empower the “little people”.
It’s not the first time Kim has warned of the threat posed to world stability as robots take over jobs.
At a speech in London earlier this year, Kim said robots replacing low-skilled workers in the poorest countries could spark a new wave of mass migration.
Other big names in technology have also spoken out on the issue. Tesla founder Elon Musk was among 100-plus AI experts to warn that the rise of the machines was a major threat.