Books  |  ,   |  September 10, 2019

Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

Book by by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne.
Published by Penguin Press.
368 pages.

From Microsoft’s president and one of the tech industry’s broadest thinkers, a frank and thoughtful reckoning with how to balance enormous promise and existential risk as the digitization of everything accelerates.

Microsoft President Brad Smith operates by a simple core belief: When your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help address the world you have helped create. This might seem uncontroversial, but it flies in the face of a tech sector long obsessed with rapid growth and sometimes on disruption as an end in itself. While sweeping digital transformation holds great promise, we have reached an inflection point. The world has turned information technology into both a powerful tool and a formidable weapon, and new approaches are needed to manage an era defined by even more powerful inventions like artificial intelligence. Companies that create technology must accept greater responsibility for the future, and governments will need to regulate technology by moving faster and catching up with the pace of innovation.

In Tools and Weapons, Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne bring us a captivating narrative from the cockpit of one of the world’s largest and most powerful tech companies as it finds itself in the middle of some of the thorniest emerging issues of our time. These are challenges that come with no preexisting playbook, including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, the moral conundrums of artificial intelligence, big tech’s relationship to inequality, and the challenges for democracy, far and near. While in no way a self-glorifying “Microsoft memoir,” the book pulls back the curtain remarkably wide onto some of the company’s most crucial recent decision points as it strives to protect the hopes technology offers against the very real threats it also presents. There are huge ramifications for communities and countries, and Brad Smith provides a thoughtful and urgent contribution to that effort.

Table of Contents

  • Foreword Bill Gates
  • Introduction: The Cloud: The World’s Filing Cabinet
  • Surveillance: A Three-Hour Fuse
  • Technology and Public Safetey: “I’d Rather Be a Loser Than a Liar”
  • Privacy: A Fundamental Human Right
  • Cybersecurity: The Wake-up Call for the World
  • Protecting Democracy: “A Republic, If You Can Keep It”
  • Social Media: The Freedom That Drives Us Apart
  • Digital Diplomacy: The Geopolitics of Technology
  • Consumer Privacy: “The Guns Will Turn”
  • Rural Broadband: The Electricity of the Twenty-first Century
  • The Talent Gap: The People Side of Technology
  • AI and Ethics: Don’t Ask What Computers Can Do, Ask What They Should Do
  • AI and Facial Recognition: Do Our Faces Deserve the Same Protection as Our Phones?
  • AI and the Workforce: The Day the Horse Lost Its Job
  • The United States and China: A Bipolar Tech World
  • Democratizing the Future: The Need for an Open Data Revolution
  • Conclusion: Managing Technology That Is Bigger Than Ourselves

About the Authors

  • Brad Smith is Microsoft’s president, where he leads a team of more than 1,400 business, legal and corporate affairs professionals working in 56 countries. He plays a key role in spearheading the company’s work on critical issues involving the intersection of technology and society, including cybersecurity, privacy, artificial intelligence, human rights, immigration, philanthropy and environmental sustainability. The Australian Financial Review has described Smith as “one of the technology industry’s most respected figures,” and the New York Times has called him “a de facto ambassador for the technology industry at large.”
  • Carol Ann Browne is senior director of communications and external relations at Microsoft. Browne and Smith have collaborated on a wide variety of writing, video, and other external engagements around the world, including their Today in Technology blog series.