Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age
By Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne, Foreword by Bill Gates
Published by Penguin Press (September 10, 2019)
“When your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help address the world you have helped create.”
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 fast pace of innovation.
These are challenges that come with no pre-existing playbook, including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, the moral conundrums of AI, 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 opens up 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 to communities and countries, and Brad Smith provides a thoughtful and urgent contribution to that effort.
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A Look Inside Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age
A day we’ve long anticipated has finally arrived. Today, the new book that Carol Ann Browne and I have written, “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age,” publishe[d] by Penguin Press and Hodder & Stoughton in North America and English languages around the world. We chose the phrase “Tools and Weapons” to capture the paradox of technology. While tech companies like Microsoft create products and services to serve humanity, that same tech is being weaponized to inflict harm. And more indirectly, many of the issues people debate today, like income equality, trade, immigration and globalization, are all enabled and fueled by technology.
These challenges affect us all, no matter where we live, fostering a new age of anxiety. Tools and Weapons starts with the proposition that if your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help the world navigate these changes. We wrote the book to make these issues more accessible to people and to examine ways to address them.
As we worked on the book, Carol Ann and I reflected on several stories drawn from current events, issues faced by Microsoft, and history. Why history? As we delved into the issues, we realized most have parallels from the past. The horse lost its job to the car, trains forced interstate regulation, the public revolted against the radio in the 1940s, and people feared that early cameras and the advent of street lamps would invade their privacy. But what’s different today is the speed of change. In a way, the issues created by today’s technology aren’t unprecedented, things are just moving a lot faster.
Tools and Weapons opens with a tour of what has become the world’s filing cabinet – the cloud. While the cloud is the underpinning of almost every aspect of society, most people don’t understand what it truly is: a massive fortress of concrete and steel. And while there is no cloud without a data center, these complexes are shrouded in mystery. We realized that to understand how the world really works today, you need to visit a data center. That’s why we open the book by taking the reader on the type of tour that typically is available only to a few industry insiders.
I hope that when people read this book, they will gain not only a better understanding of the forces changing our world, but also a sense that there is a promising way forward. It is a path that requires the entire technology sector to change and take on more responsibility. It’s also a path that requires governments to do more, to move faster and change as well. Fundamentally, it’s a path that requires that we work together in very concrete ways to bring together people who create technology, people who use technology, people who govern technology, and people who are impacted by it. As the book illustrates with concrete and colorful stories, we believe that this will provide the best approach to address issues that range from privacy and security to the development of artificial intelligence and the impact of technology on our jobs and international relations between nations, including the U.S. and China.
—Brad Smith, September 10, 2019 on LinkedIn
About the Authors:
Brad Smith. As Microsoft’s president, Brad 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 a Senior Director, External Relations and Executive Communications at Microsoft. She joined Microsoft in 2010 and is an experienced communicator with a broad background in writing, video, multimedia, and social media work. Browne and Smith have collaborated on a wide variety of content, including their Today in Technology blog series.
Tools and Weapons was The World Economic Forum’s Book Club pick for October, 2019.