tv Asia Business Report BBC News September 23, 2019 2:30am-2:46am BST
this is bbc news. the headlines: the british travel company, thomas cook, has ceased trading, stranding more than 150,000 customers overseas. the uk's civil aviation authority has launched its biggest—ever repatriation operation. passengers in the uk expecting to travel with thomas cook have been told not to go to the airport. a new un report says the last five years are set to be the hottest on record, and the impacts of global warming, such as extreme weather, are increasing. a report says levels of carbon dioxide are nearly 20% higher than in the previous five years. israeli arab lawmakers have recommended that the opposition leader, benny gantz, be given the chance to form a government after last week's elections. their support of the arab parties will not give mr gantz and his blue and white alliance a majority. but it will strengthen his hand in negotiations.
now on bbc news, it's time for hardtalk. welcome to hardtalk. i'm stephen sackur. remember the time when the internet was trumpeted as the tech tool that would deliver us a golden age of knowledge, freedom and democracy? well, now we are in a darker, more cynical place. the digital revolution has generated fears about lost privacy, mass surveillance and systemic misinformation. have the corporate titans of tech failed us? well, my guest today is brad smith, president of microsoft. how do we ensure our astonishing technological advances are harnessed for good, not harm?
brad smith, welcome to hardtalk. thank you, nice to be here. you have served an extraordinary amount of time at microsoft, the best part of three decades. you have seen the evolution of our attitudes towards information technology and the internet in particular. i have referred to the sort of great positivity, the optimism, in the early years. would you agree that these days, we are much more anxious and fearful about what the internet does, and how it might betray some of our values? i think that's the case. we live in an age of anxiety overall, i would say. we talk about the forces that are disrupting our lives,
and even when we're not talking about technology, when we are talking about globalisation, income inequality, we are actually talking about forces that have been unleashed by technology. so we do live in a time when technology is both a tool and a weapon, and we need to address both sides of that coin. interesting you use this phrase, and you have written a whole book with its title front and centre, "tool and weapon." let us address this notion of information tech and the internet being a weapon. who is to blame for the weaponisation? i think in some sense we should look all around us. i would look first and foremost at certain governments that clearly are weaponising technology. we have authoritarian regimes launching cyber attacks that disrupted, on a single day in 2017, one third of all of the nhs hospitals in the united kingdom. but it's broader than that. we see cyber—criminals, we see concerns about our privacy from unintended consequences.
the one group you left out there were the giant tech corporations themselves, of which you are of course a representative, a very senior one. is it not time to conclude that the tech giants, and of course in the western world there are the big five, which includes microsoft, and we can list the others later, these tech giants became too big, too powerful, too full of hubris? i don't know if the tech giants are too big or too powerful, but we all need to step up. we need to think more broadly. we need to assume more responsibility. i do think that the industry needs to mature and really acknowledge quite explicitly the challenges that technology has created, and notjust the benefits. i do want to talk about the evolution, because it is very germane to the microsoft story itself. it's not so long ago, let's say in the mid to late—1990s, that many people studying the tech sector referred to microsoft
as "the evil empire." you were the first of these giant companies that ruthlessly exploited technology to dominate the marketplace. looking back, do you think that was actually a mistake, the attitude that was brought to the table by microsoft? we made more than our share of mistakes. and i think it is an interesting story, because we had to learn. part of what we had to learn was to look in the mirror and see ourselves not as we wanted to see ourselves, but as the way other people saw us. we had to learn to connect with the world. we needed to assume more responsibility. we needed to compromise and accept regulation as it was imposed on us, and in that story, i do think there are parallels for the tech sector as a whole today. because it was tempting, of course, this was personified perhaps by bill gates more than anybody else, tempting to see this sort of geeky, extraordinarily smart business leader in a new enterprise, tech—oriented, who really was sort of in it for the purity of developing the knowledge.
but of course bill gates wasn't really like that at all, just as mark zuckerberg recently isn't really like that at all. he's notjust the uber—geek, he's a ruthless businessman out to suck every dollar of profit that can be made from his dominance of the market. i would not endorse a statement that broad. what i would suggest is that in the world of technology, people start companies with a great idea and they move very fast. one of the lessons to be learned is that while it is important to move fast, one should never move faster than the speed of thought. and i think if you look at the history of digital technology, it has had a tendency at times for companies to move fast — the old slogan was "move fast and break things." i think the new slogan is... just to interrupt you on that point, do you think microsoft was guilty
of that, in its determination to absolutely dominate and rule the operating system market for pcs? i think that what we learned was that we needed to think more broadly. there is a singularity of focus that you often find in very successful tech companies, and microsoft was among them. and then you reach a point where you just have to recognise that the impact that you are having on others, other people in your industry, the world as a whole, is so much greater that you have to step back and internalise that, and that's the key to accepting more responsibility. interesting. if that is the place that big tech is at today, do you understand the calls being made across the political spectrum in the us right now for the breakup of the biggest companies? if we are going to name them, then it would be amazon, apple, alphabet, who of course have
google, then there would be microsoft, than facebook. there are people, and i'm going to quote for you, senator elizabeth warren, a hopeful presidential candidate in the democratic party, calling for the breakup of those big companies, because she says they "fundamentally threaten the balance of power in our democracy." i do believe we need to... i'll say, strengthen the democratic side of the balance of power in democracy. i don't believe you need to break companies up. i don't believe that's the best or even fastest path to restoring the power of governments, especially democratic governments elected by the public. we learn from microsoft's own experience, that while the government in our case 20 years ago, actually pursued a break—up of the company, it could accomplish what it wanted in the end without doing that. and you can move a lot faster as a government to doing it
in a different way. let's talk about regulation, what you call guardrails in your book. the idea that you can find a way of working, private sectors, the big tech companies, working alongside the state government to develop meaningful, effective guardrails, to ensure that the public is well served. tell me what you think these guardrails should look like, that we don't have today? i think one should start by asking what problems we want to solve, and then you create guardrails to solve each one. certainly we look around the world today and there are plenty of technology problems that need to be solved. there are issues around privacy, there are issues around cyber—security. there are issues around the use of artificial intelligence in, say, something like facial recognition. there are economic issues, especially the impact that technology is having onjobs and the future of the economy. and in some places in the world
there are some guardrails in place, say, in europe, around something like privacy. but almost everywhere you look, i think we need additional guardrails. we need to guardrails that will be essential for the decade ahead, the 2020s, and we need to start building those now. let's get specific, and let's start with privacy and data. goodness knows technology allows every single one of us now to use our smartphones and our laptops and our tablets to acquire and use information, and thereby to also provide information about ourselves to tech companies such as yours. in the united states, there is a law which in essence says that the tech companies can't be held legally responsible for online content that is on their platforms. is it your contention that law must now change? actually, yes. section 230 of the
communications decency act. it was created in the 1990s when the internet was really just taking off. the notion was that the best way to enable the internet to take off was to give to interactive services immunity that journalists, networks, television and radio had traditionally faced for content. i don't think that one should just abrogate what was created in the ‘90s, because i think that would probably virtually suffocate social media. but the time has come to accept that there needs to be some exceptions and some new responsibilities for companies, including our own, in this space. you say including your own, but the sceptic in me says to myself, here is the guy, one of the top officials at microsoft, suggesting a change, making himself look like a real public—spirited corporate leader, but actually, a change which will hamstring facebook and twitter and some other content carriers, but it won't really affect microsoft at all. this is an easy hit for you.
well, i would actually say there are two things to consider. first, one of the largest social media networks in the world is linkedin, owned by microsoft. it has 650 million members around the world. i think it's always important for us to make sure that we're willing to assume the responsibilities we suggest for others. and secondly, at the end of the day, i don't think we should pursue a path that fundamentally impairs the ability of any service to deliver the value that people really expect and rely on, whether it's from us or from anyone else. this needs to be an exercise in identifying how we protect what we value, but create more responsibility, and there are real practical steps under way this year to do that and i think those are the things we should learn from. let's talk about the degree to which the big tech companies
and governments are capable of cross collaboration, of working on these problems together. i am very mindful that, for example, earlier this year, after a terrible mass shooting in christchurch, new zealand, the new zealand prime minister and the french president tried to work together and brought companies such as your own on board to get a sort of clarion call, a declaration together, of collaboration, to ensure that hate speech, for example, is taken down, taken off the internet. but frankly all these months later there is no sign that's actually working. i actually think we are making important progress, and we will continue to make important progress. i think tremendous credit is due to new zealand's prime minister, jacinda ardern, and to president macron, and other leaders. i happened to be in wellington, new zealand's capital, less than two weeks after the christchurch terrorist attack. i had the opportunity to sit down with prime minister ardern. the work that began led two months
later to the christchurch call. you know what i'm going to say. donald trump and the trump administration do not seem to be interested injoining this initiative, and if the us won'tjoin, what on earth use is it? well, it's interesting. in the world today, if your goal is to actually change the features or conduct of american technology companies, you actually don't always need the united states government. look at what happened in the wake of christchurch. new zealand moved, australia passed a new law, just two weeks after that the british government introduced a new proposal. the french and germans have moved forward and the american technology companies have actually changed a number of important aspects of their services that were exploited by the christchurch terrorist in a way that we should never want to see exploited again, all without the support of the us government. but i have to be honest with you, mr smith.
when you tell me that the new zealanders are on board and the scandinavians are on board and the french and maybe the uk government to, it doesn't really surprise me. it seems to match the rhetoric we hear from politicians in those countries. i would be much more interested and frankly impressed if you told me about the russians, the chinese, the north koreans and indeed donald trump and the americans were signing up to what you have at some points called the geneva convention that's needed to control technology across the world. these countries are the problem. and they're not interested in your solution. i think one should consider it from a different perspective. we need to build coalitions of the willing, especially among the world's democracies. there are roughly 75 democratic nations in the world, roughly half the world's population live in them. so, for example, under the leadership of a number