Mr. Nadella cited the quest to create a catalyst that can absorb carbon, in order to help tackle climate change.
This, he cautioned, would likely not be achieved without an increase in computer processing power.
"Moore's Law is kinda running out of steam," Mr. Nadella told assembled delegates, referring to the maxim that the power of computer chips doubles every two years.
The Microsoft chief executive also took aim at so-called "re-skilling programs", calling them "one of the greatest wastes of money".
Such schemes, which are designed to retrain those whose professions have been lost to globalization or automation, are often "done without a true understanding of where the labor market is going," Mr. Nadella argued.
Instead, the India-born chief executive, who took over at the helm of Microsoft in 2014, said that reforming school curriculums was of paramount importance.
"We can, with some certainty, say that we will need more people graduating from our schools who will need to be comfortable with these augmented realities," he predicted.
"The fact that most curricula in schools still don't recognize computer science like they do math or physics is just crazy."
Mr. Nadella added: "We need middle school teachers of computer science of the highest quality."
He also emphasized that artificial intelligence, on which Microsoft is increasingly focused, could be a part of the solution to joblessness, rather than merely its cause.
Earlier, Klaus Schwab, the man behind the World Economic Forum, called for leading tech executives to consider the disruption that their products may cause to economic, political and social life.
"If we act now," Mr. Schwab said, "we have the opportunity to ensure that technologies - such as artificial intelligence - sustainably and meaningfully improve the lives and prospects of as many people as possible."