Brad Smith ’81, the President and Chief Legal Officer of Microsoft, visited the University on March 1 to speak about artificial intelligence and the role that similar companies play in steering the ethical standards of technology fields. After his lecture, the ‘Prince’ sat down with Smith to talk about the future of AI and the way his education has informed his work at Microsoft.  

Smith emphasized that the growth of artificial intelligence demands that we meet the need for collaboration across disciplines. His own studies in international relations and work in the Director of Government Affairs’ office at the University only grew his appreciation for the role of social science in technology.

“I was able to bring together my interests in public policy and technology together at Microsoft,” said Smith, explaining that the multi-faceted approach to study taken at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public Policy and International Affairs has helped drive his many successful endeavors at Microsoft.

Smith has worked at Microsoft since 1993 and served as the leader of the European section of the company’s Legal and Corporate Affairs department before becoming general counsel in 2002. He plays a crucial role in shaping Microsoft’s policy issues on government surveillance, privacy, intellectual property, immigration, and computer science education. 

As a University trustee, Smith saw the importance of joining the forces of private institutions like the University and major companies like Microsoft to shine a light on political issues like the DACA Lawsuit. In November, Microsoft filed a joint complaint against President Trump’s DACA policy in a Washington, D.C. federal court, along with the University and Maria De La Cruz Perales Sanchez '18.

“I was enthusiastic to participate with Princeton to bring the DACA lawsuit together,” said Smith, adding that the collaboration could have a monumental effect in shaping politics.

Smith also stressed the value students can get from working in disparate academic fields to strengthen one’s work in a specific field or major.

“It is really valuable to not only think about your major, but one additional field to focus on,” explained Smith, explaining how artificial intelligence has had an immense effect on social science organizations including the Princeton Geniza Lab, a collaborative organization devoted to increasing the accessibility of historical Jewish manuscripts.

“As a student of the humanities, you would be well-served to take a class in machine learning, statistics,” added Smith, praising the substantial growth of the computer science department at the University.

Smith praised the University’s computer science department for its diversity, pointing out that over one-third of the University’s computer science department is now made up of women, a threshold that is difficult to cross in the field.

“Computer science has been notable in bringing in a significant number of academics and professors,” Smith said. 

As a final note, Smith expressed the increasing obligation for the rising generation to ensure strong cybersecurity. It is every student’s job to think about their future role in helping manage the implications of booming artificial intelligence, he said.

“Technology is wonderful, but it is also the new threat to the homeland,” said Smith, noting that cybersecurity is an important technology and policy issue of generations to come. 

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