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Microsoft President Brad Smith’s book about tech is no love letter

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If you sat down to compile a ranking of the most recognizable top executives at leading technology companies, Microsoft president Brad Smith would not make even your long list of contenders. But though he is not exactly a household name, Smith nonetheless plays as critical a role as his boss, CEO Satya Nadella, as an emissary to the world beyond Redmond.

A lawyer by training and a 26-year Microsoft veteran, Smith is intimately responsible for the company’s relationships with customers, competitors, governments, and NGOs. His purview, in other words, is Microsoft’s place in society. And that means that it goes far beyond the humdrum business of selling of software and services to encompass everything from fair elections to immigration policy to the risks of AI—subjects which increasingly raise hard questions without easy answers.

Now Smith has turned his thinking on such matters into a book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age, which he wrote with Microsoft director of communications and external affairs Carol Ann Browne. By putting his thoughts on paper, he’s following a long-standing Microsoft tradition. In the 1990s, cofounder Bill Gates made the bestseller list twice, with the largely optimistic The Road Ahead and Business @ the Speed of Thought. And two years ago, Nadella published a book of his own that was partly about his effort to reboot Microsoft and partly about where technology might take us next.

In 2019, a book about tech’s present and future impact on humankind that was relentlessly upbeat would feel out of whack with reality. But Smith’s Microsoft experience allowed him to take a hard look at major issues and possible solutions, a task he says he relished. “There are some people that are steeped in technology, but they may not be steeped in the world of politics or policy,” he explains. “There are some people who are steeped in the world of politics and policy, but they may not be steeped in technology. And most people are not actually steeped in either. But these issues impact them. and increasingly they matter to them.”

Tools and Weapons is full of elements that Smith and Browne have previously examined in Microsoft on the Issues, a surprisingly thoughtful corporate blog that doesn’t just consist of the boilerplate stances you’d assume every giant technology company holds. And the blog comes up in the book, in a discussion of an incident involving a Microsoft contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s........

© Fast Company