Tech companies are racing to develop ever more sophisticated artificial intelligence (AI) solutions. We already know this is a revolutionary technology that will change how we live our lives. According to Microsoft president Brad Smith, AI has the potential to be as influential and transformative as the internal combustion engine.

While speaking at the Web Summit Technology Conference in Lisbon, Portugal today, Smith described how AI will drive an increasing connection between people and technology.

“When we look to the decade ahead, in many respects AI will be a tool of the sort the world has seldom seen before, and hence it can become a weapon as well. When you look back at the first half of the twentieth century, it was a time that was transformed by one invention above all else: the combustion engine. 

“[The combustion engine] led to the car and the airplane; it led to the truck and the tractor; it changed every part of every economy. I think it’s fair to say that over the next three decades — from now to 2050 — AI is likely to play a similar role in the global economy.”


Brad Smith suggests the tech company should consider the impact AI will have on society. He said that self-reflection is already underway and is part of what a company must do with any new technology.

“It really calls on us [the tech industry] to think as never before about what this means in terms of broader societal implications. As we do so, I think it’s actually helpful to start by reflecting on a fundamental fact: these are not new questions. This technology may be new, but these questions are as old as technology itself.”

Smith was talking specifically about the ethical questions posed by AI. He said the tech industry must remember to understand the limitations of computers and even consider placing those limitations.

“In some ways, [this is] the fundamental question of our times. We shouldn’t just ask what computers can do. We need to ask what they should do, and we need to think hard, because we are the first generation in the history of humanity who will empower machines to make decision that were previously only made by people. If we get it wrong, every generation that follows us will pay a price.”