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Microsoft president Brad Smith '81 lectured on the future of AI to a packed hall on Thursday

Brad Smith lecture

Microsoft Corporation’s President Brad Smith ’81 discussed the future of artificial intelligence and its possible effects on employment at a lecture on Thursday, March 1.

“We really need to step back and recognize that we can’t afford to look at this future without critical eyes,” explained Smith. “Technology is always used in good ways and bad, and even when it’s used in good ways, it has an impact that we can’t necessarily predict. It has indirect effects that aren’t necessarily intended.”


Smith prefaced much of his lecture by saying that while one could follow the patterns and perhaps have an idea of where the future of AI may go, it is extremely difficult to do so with great accuracy.

“There is no crystal ball,” said Smith. “It is possible to discern a number of trends and we can make decisions based on those trends, but there is no such thing as a crystal ball and none of us can know with certainty what lies ahead.”

When discussing the possible consequences that AI could have, Smith first addressed the jobs that AI could replace in the future, listing industries such as radiology, driving, call centers, and fast food.

“It is highly likely, I think, that within the next five years we’re going to be driving up in drive-thrus and we’re no longer going to be talking to a human,” said Smith. “We’re going to be talking to computers because the speech recognition of computers is going to be as good, or better, than people.”

Even with those replacements, Smith emphasized that there were many jobs that AI simply will not be able to replace. He also spoke of jobs that would be more likely to use AI than be replaced by it, referencing the professions of nurses, social workers, and teachers.

Brad Smith 2.jpg

“It has become apparent to me that [some] jobs really cannot be replaced by AI, and they more fundamentally relate to human creativity, human ingenuity, and perhaps most important of all, human empathy and human interactions,” Smith said.

“The thing that I personally believe is the single most exciting thing for the next five years is what AI can do for people who have a disability,” Smith said.

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In light of the future of AI, Smith said that it was incredibly important to have well-rounded students who are prepared for the possible ethical, political, and social impacts AI could have. Smith also spoke about how AI could make particular academic disciplines even more impactful and influential, stating that “engineering isn’t only for the engineers anymore.”

“It really underscores the fact that everyone who is in the liberal arts can be learning a little bit of computer science and data science, and every engineer is going to probably need some more liberal arts in their future,” Smith said.

The talk, entitled “Microsoft's Brad Smith on the Rise of Artificial Intelligence: Who Will Have Jobs in the Future?” took place in McCosh 50 on Thursday, March 1, at 4:30 p.m.