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Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

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The instant New York Times bestseller.

From Microsoft's president and one of the tech industry's broadest thinkers, a frank and thoughtful reckoning with how to balance enormous promise and existential risk as the digitization of everything accelerates.

"A colorful and insightful insiders' view of how technology is both empowering and threatening us. From privacy to cyberattacks, this timely book is a useful guide for how to navigate the digital future." --Walter Isaacson

Microsoft President Brad Smith operates by a simple core belief: When your technology changes the world, you bear a responsibility to help address the world you have helped create. This might seem uncontroversial, but it flies in the face of a tech sector long obsessed with rapid growth and sometimes on disruption as an end in itself. While sweeping digital transformation holds great promise, we have reached an inflection point. The world has turned information technology into both a powerful tool and a formidable weapon, and new approaches are needed to manage an era defined by even more powerful inventions like artificial intelligence. Companies that create technology must accept greater responsibility for the future, and governments will need to regulate technology by moving faster and catching up with the pace of innovation.

In Tools and Weapons, Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne bring us a captivating narrative from the cockpit of one of the world's largest and most powerful tech companies as it finds itself in the middle of some of the thorniest emerging issues of our time. These are challenges that come with no preexisting playbook, including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, the moral conundrums of artificial intelligence, big tech's relationship to inequality, and the challenges for democracy, far and near. While in no way a self-glorifying Microsoft memoir, the book pulls back the curtain remarkably wide onto some of the company's most crucial recent decision points as it strives to protect the hopes technology offers against the very real threats it also presents. There are huge ramifications for communities and countries, and Brad Smith provides a thoughtful and urgent contribution to that effort.

368 pages, Hardcover

First published September 10, 2019

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Brad Smith

2 books20 followers
Microsoft President.

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5 stars
461 (28%)
4 stars
684 (41%)
3 stars
361 (22%)
2 stars
95 (5%)
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32 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews
November 21, 2020
Superficial material that could've been read in a newspaper. Some of the stories covered in detail but never in enough of it to be worthwhile. Some 'Russian hackers', some 'Chinese hackers', bits and pieces of this and that.
Never in any significant detail. Never any deep insights. The overall rating is closer to 1 than 2.
Profile Image for Shilpa Rao.
58 reviews7 followers
October 9, 2019
Picked up this book in the hope I would learn something on evolving policy and tech companies, governments and data protection, but the book is a PR exercise for Microsoft. Very disappointing, and of course, I've learnt nothing new.
Profile Image for Lisa.
6 reviews1 follower
September 21, 2019
Democracy, privacy, cybersecurity, rural broadband, government regulation of tech and more – this book is so much more than just “will AI-infused robots take over the world.”

It’s a quick, easy read that breaks down these complex issues in a comprehensible manner with really interesting connections to lessons from history, providing fascinating insight and perspective on topics we should all be considering.

Living in a rural community, I found the rural broadband issues, including government reporting, solutions, and MSFT's commitment especially fascinating. I have a new respect for my REA and the part it played this country’s history.

Brad Smith’s position and history in the industry, including his musings and lessons learned from when Microsoft was on the wrong side of history, and the other tech giants stance on important issues, provide such an interesting perspective. As a bibliophile, I am very stingy with 5-star ratings. This book deserves it.

Profile Image for Matthew Gabert.
9 reviews1 follower
September 24, 2019
This was a very good book, full of information and details about things that I knew about at a cursory level, but never knew the full details of. This book is about Microsoft, and has little to do with anything else. It has to do with the digital revolution of Microsoft and Brad's role in that. I felt as if he was making Microsoft out to be the best thing since sliced bread and had little to no faults in the transition and issues. Very preachy of how good Microsoft is/was, and that rubbed me the wrong way. If you look at it strictly for details and facts about the tranformation Microsoft took, then this book will interest you!
February 14, 2020
Microsoft loves you.
Microsoft only wants what's best for the people.
Microsoft is willing to die for your privacy.

Here's a template of how every chapter goes:
- Somewhat relevant historical anecdote.
- Technology issue happens.
- Microsoft is the first company to do the right thing even though the dum dums at Google and Apple were against them.
February 25, 2021
If this book had been published two or three decades ago it would have been categorised as science fiction. This book brings into perspective the staggering progress of technology and the role each of us has to play as a member of the society on how technology should be implemented and used in the future.
Profile Image for Adam.
38 reviews3 followers
August 28, 2020
Full disclosure: I work in the department at Microsoft of the authors. That may make me like the book slightly more than I would otherwise. And I loved this book. For one thing, the authors enjoy history and the way it does not repeat, rather it rhymes. Putting today's complex issues surrounding into the context of their historical analogs does something more than help the reader understand where we may have seen this before. It also helps break down the complexity while providing guideposts to where it may lead.

In every chapter, the authors have something to say about the responsibility of technology and the companies that make it. They are clear on the role of governments, ecosystems, and users of tech. And tech companies in this day now have roles to play that extend well beyond shareholder value. Framing policy considerations, influencing (and sometimes leading) diplomacy, setting the stage for the development of a future workforce. And providing, as the title suggests, either the machinery for a new generation of responsible industry or the ordinances of reckless ruin.

The authors lay out various principles that are required if everyone will benefit from the explosion of data and AI. Those principles are not independent of other value systems, such as those that form the basis of democracy or responsible business. They build on them, and the authors give many examples where this was the case when approaching new products. Technologies will come and go. But timeless values are...well...timeless.
Profile Image for Monique.
68 reviews
October 2, 2019
Brad Smith, President of Microsoft, wrote this book with Carole Ann Browne, about all the wonderful things Microsoft has done in the realm of the digital revolution. A more appropriate and less misleading title would have been: Tools and Weapons, How Microsoft has delivered the Promise and saved the world from the Perils of the Digital Age.
While Microsoft certainly has some praiseworthy accomplishments to show for, such as its outreach to rural America, where millions of people still live without broadband and therefore effectively without access to the internet, its advocacy to promote computer science literacy in schools, and its championing of open data sharing for the benefit of medical research, it also fully participates in enriching itself from the collection of big data from its customers, something which the authors conveniently forget to mention.
This book is more a propaganda piece for Microsoft than a scholarly overview of the current and future promises and problems of the digital age.
The book is still a worthwhile read, as it touches on the many varied aspects of this issue, and provides a lot of food for thought.
Profile Image for Savyasachee.
145 reviews13 followers
January 17, 2020
I like this book. It's not traditionally the kind of book that I read, but as a friend has been telling me lately, I need to expand my horizon when it comes to non-fiction.

Smith's book reads smoothly. It is more of a propaganda machine regarding Microsoft than I would have liked, but it's hard to argue with a man stating his case without rancor and with honesty. Knowing that it's written by a top-level MS employee with all the insight and bias that entails gives my reading sufficient context to understand the point of view. The position of power that his job gives him over the lives and data of millions, if not more, gives him a unique perspective on the issues plaguing our society today. And Smith, somewhat selectively, goes in-depth into what he thinks is right, what MS has learned, and where he thinks it's going next.

Smith handles AI, privacy, crime, the technology wars, city planning, and much more with adroit precision and simple language. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single word of jargon in this book. You would, on the other hand, find copious footnotes despite this being more of a point-of-view type of book. That gives this book gravitas: it's possible to finish the book in an afternoon, but you can go through the sources and educate yourself quite well if you've missed the news stories he's sourced.

The reason I take a point off is because Smith extols what Microsoft got right, rarely what it got wrong. His poorly concealed derision for Facebook can be caught by most readers, I'd imagine, and somewhat better concealed apathy towards Amazon ought to be visible to more perceptive ones. Painting yourself in a good light is quite all right, but it tends to make me wary about the details which haven't been sourced: the ones rooted in personal experience and memories. I wonder if they've been embellished or been smoothed-over. It's a doubt which is endemic to this kind of book, so I suppose this rating is as high as I can go.

4/5 because it's very well-written, makes you think about and appreciate what it takes to steer a ship as large as Microsoft, and explains well the issues companies of that size need to be cognizant of.
Profile Image for Rayfes Mondal.
336 reviews5 followers
February 7, 2020
Powerful title for a weak book written by the president of Microsoft and about all the great things they've done to protect me. Reading a book about his meetings with important people wasn't interesting. Talks at a high level about important topics but there's no depth in the technological discussion and no prognostications about the future. A little bit of interesting history here and there. I kept waiting for the book to kick in to high gear and get better but it never did.
Profile Image for Annie Wilson.
67 reviews1 follower
May 20, 2020
This book really does not offer any deep insights above a superficial survey of the pros/cons of technological development and considerations. It also felt like one giant Microsoft propaganda piece....maybe they’re as good, ethical, and pro social as the book suggests, but it felt too much like the author was constantly patting himself on the back with every story/example rather than giving a deep dive into all of the considerations of decisions and changes.
Profile Image for Ubaid Dhiyan.
71 reviews5 followers
October 16, 2019
Great title, not so great content. Reads essentially as a history of Microsoft’s PR - which admittedly includes many admirable and important initiatives - but comes across as bland and uninspiring.
Profile Image for Alex.
246 reviews19 followers
March 24, 2020
This whole book was an ad for Microsoft. It did contain good information for someone who does not work in the tech world.
Profile Image for Shweta Jha.
14 reviews
March 2, 2020
Tools and Weapons – “The Promise and the Peril of digital age”

It took me almost a year to finally buy this book. Brad Smith is a story teller and the facts shared in this book makes me even more humble and proud than ever.

Working for an organization that runs on ethics and responsibilities have always been the biggest reason for me to feel motivated and accountable.
Microsoft runs on trust and after reading this book you will see how the organization stood for what was right even if it required to work with and against the government.
In this digital age, where everything is open, data privacy and governance is the principle right and the tech companies not only need to adhere to the policies but to also ready for the change needed. You will get to know how the journey started and how all other organizations joined the force for bigger good.
Absence of data governance and sharing law compelled Microsoft to think how will they be judged after 10 years, will they be able to say that they honored their customers commitments. We all know what happened after that, the company decided to sue the united states government and the law was made.

I didn’t anticipate that there would be many people in USA, who do not have access to the internet. Who could think that, after all it’s the most advanced country in the world, right? Well the truth is fascinating, there are millions of people who still has no access to internet and the research shows that the economic growth is directly tied to the ability to be able to access the information at your fingertips and be able to communicate as quickly as possible. I’m impressed that Microsoft has taken responsibility to use TV white space frequency and is committed to bring internet to 3 million people by July 4 2022 (5 years target).

I also enjoyed reading Antispyware purchase deal from Giant Software – this is today’s Microsoft Defender, the product I work on… 😉. Microsoft has been spending more than 1 billion a year developing new security features/solutions/products and helping its customer to secure their environment.

Great read on taking the ownership and responsibility to preserve democracy- birth of account guard.

Finally, you would how ethic will play the crucial role in tomorrow’s AI based future.

I enjoyed every paragraphs of this book and highly recommend to read. Thanks to the authors for taking time to write these facts and sharing to the broader audience.
Profile Image for Mauricio Coindreau.
60 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2021
3.5 rating. The book was a pleasant surprise to what I was expecting. Definitely a very interesting way to look at technology, politics and the future of humanity through the lens of the behemoth that is Microsoft. I've always been a fan of Brad Smith corporate work and really appreciate how the book went to on to illustrate not only how Microsoft has changed, but also how it been able to increasingly take strong position in worldwide discussions.
The book can get a bit tedious at time as it struggles to find the right balance between Microsoft accolades, comparative analogies and it's vision for the future. But overall it is a worthy read for anyone interested in the future of technology, our dependency in these global companies, and what will the be the questions we have to be asking about our personal future.
Profile Image for J.
59 reviews4 followers
October 31, 2019
I really enjoyed this book. If you have any interest in the future of technology, but also what goes on at companies like Microsoft, Brad Smith gives you a great insight through "Tools and Weapons." In particular, I liked the chapter where he describes walking through data centers, with their different levels of security, and the massive scale of delivering technology we all take for granted. I also felt the author did a good job with introducing politics and technology together, but stayed away from taking any side and introducing unnecessary political posturing. Smith displays leadership throughout the book, and is willing to work with competitors and countries to guide technology into the future. Highly recommend.
Profile Image for Saivya.
13 reviews2 followers
March 25, 2020
After reading, it becomes apparent that Brad Smith is not only an insufferable “Yes-Man” but also a dickless one at that, who after 50 years of sucking up to Microsoft’s leaders wound himself at a position of power important enough to compel him to write this drab and sorrow account of him stroking his ego for 400 fucking pages.

While there are tid bits that offer insight into Microsoft’s endeavours to push technological boundaries within the industry, they are overshadowed by Smith’s constant need to choke on Zuckerberg’s and Trump’s cocks, reconfirming Smith’s status as a grade A cuckold, and a truly uninteresting writer.

Avoid at all costs - no wonder hundreds of copies have sat unsold at my local bookstore for months.
Profile Image for Dave Sanders.
81 reviews10 followers
November 22, 2019
Did not finish. 62 pages in and the infomercial quality of the book sets my teeth on edge. Microsoft is awesome, mmm'kay? And if you didn't have behemoths like Microsoft looking out for you, you'd all still be banging rocks together. The other reviewers who mention this quality of the book are not wrong.

If you are a technologist you probably don't need to read this book. While there may be rare and occasional bits of new info, most of it is stuff you already know and are afraid of.
Profile Image for The  Conch.
278 reviews16 followers
December 17, 2019
It is all about how Microsoft is protecting their customer from worldwide hacking effort on their server or product. This books gives glimpse of coming terror which can devastate IT sector. However, all giant companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook etc., even if they are competitor, are collaborating their effort to fight new form of terror.
19 reviews
September 2, 2020
I learned that Microsoft is primarily driven by a desire to serve the public good, rather than a profit motive, and that Microsoft (with Smith’s legal leadership) often stood up to other tech companies to ensure benevolent progress.
Profile Image for Rick Wilson.
614 reviews220 followers
April 1, 2022
This set itself up as a book I would really enjoy. It’s written by someone with deep industry knowledge. Brad Smith has been a high-level lawyer at Microsoft and eventually promoted to president after 20 years. I’m deferential to authors who have extensive experience in the subjects they talk about. This could have been a banger. Sadly it felt like it fell short.

I guess I naturally end up comparing it to other books by CEOs and corporate presidents. Next to Satya Nadella’s Hit Refresh this was incredible. But that’s in part due to Hit Refresh being terrible. Compared to a narritavely focused book like Shoe Dog I found it lacking. I don’t know if that’s fair to this book because Shoe Dog was very clearly ghost written. I just know I wanted more from this book. There were a few interesting tidbits. But most of it is just stuff you can find on any tech oriented HBR think piece or surface level Bloomberg article.

If you want to read this, I think you should read this as a survey of the mainstream tech industry in the late 20 teens. And as that is a solid book. But I’m not sure that I’m taking away any deep specific insights or unique knowledge here. Most of the takes are very safe and end with saying how, or sort of framing how Microsoft is doing great. And they might be, I own a chunk of Microsoft stock because I think it’s a good company (this is not investment advice. Just wishing to illustrate that I have drunk the Kool-Aid) and I think there’s value in being able to confidently kind of update your mental models around emergent technology. Some of the stuff that I haven’t been as directly involved in or aware of definitely has progressed. The rural broadband Internet TV channel stuff was fairly interesting. Because this book doesn’t take any risks on what they think the future is doing. It’s all current day capabilities and very realistic recent histories.

The tech industry, or at least my engagement with it, often seems very prone to hype and bombbast. Six months ago it was NFTs, today and seems to be web3 companies. There’s always a “new new“ thing to quote Michael Lewis. I do think it is valuable to be able to hear from someone at the pinnacle of one of the largest technology companies what the sort of safe conventional tech wisdom is. Now do I wish for more? Yes. This is like going to a boring industry conference. It’s like hearing a professor without tenure talk about it. There’s no real risk and it’s very clear that most of the opinion when it happens to sneak through is calculated not to offend.

There are plenty of bits and pieces that are interesting. Brad writes clearly and portrays his ideas sympathetically. I thought that it was interesting to hear from the Microsoft side of things how they interacted with and handled some of the Snowden revelations. I think if you work around tech it’s valuable to understand how someone like Brad thinks. But constantly having to mentally fact check everything against what is obviously a very pro Microsoft take can be exhausting. And the structure of the book is such that each issue presented goes through a discussion of the topic and then spends the second half of the chapter on how Microsoft is doing such a great job with it.

So realistically, if you want to get the most out of this book, you read the first half of every chapter and then use the second half of every chapter as doodle paper. It’ll save you time, you’ll maximize your knowledge intake, and the doodling is probably good for your mental health.
Profile Image for Vinayak Hegde.
452 reviews54 followers
April 13, 2020
The book is written by Brad Smith, Chief legal officer at Microsoft. He also led Microsoft battle in the antitrust case in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The book touches upon several issues at the interface between technology, policy, politics, history, and law. The book has extensive Microsoft references but if you filter that there are interesting lessons/ideas to be learnt. I would love to read a book on similar topics from FaceBook (from Alex Stamos?), Google or Amazon to get a complete perspective of the issues.

The book gives some really good historical examples such as the rise of the automobile and the second-order effects of technology that cannot be predicted easily. Another example that I liked was the war of 1812 and how it shaped legal treaties all over the world. The book's greatest strength is that it is written by a non-tech person but sometimes it is a weakness as well. It also helps that the author is self-aware and hence the book is not self-congratulatory. Overall a good read about technology can be used as a tool and a weapon as well. The best sentence of the book was about government regulation, democracy, and the tech elite.

"The sweep of technology issues affect virtually every aspect of our economies, societies, and personal lives. In the democracies of the world, one of the most cherished values is that the public determines its course by electing the people who make the laws that govern everyone. Tech leaders may be chosen by boards of directors selected by shareholders, but they are not chosen by the public. Democratic countries should not cede the future to leaders the public did not elect."
Profile Image for Ben Rogers.
2,156 reviews137 followers
January 28, 2023
Use Tools To Counter Weapons Or Become A Tool By Using Weapons

Tools and Weapons is a thought-provoking and insightful book that provides a unique perspective on the challenges facing tech companies today.

Written by Brad Smith, the President of Microsoft, the book takes readers into the cockpit of one of the world's largest and most powerful tech companies as it navigates some of the thorniest emerging issues of our time.
Smith delves into a range of pressing issues, including privacy, cybercrime and cyberwar, social media, the moral conundrums of AI, big tech's relationship to inequality, and the challenges for democracy.

One of the strengths of the book is the level of transparency and honesty that Smith brings to the table. He does not shy away from discussing some of the most difficult decisions that Microsoft has had to make in recent years and provides a candid look at the company's thought process and reasoning behind those decisions.
This level of openness is refreshing and provides readers with a deeper understanding of the complexities and nuances of the issues at hand.

Smith's writing is clear and engaging, making the book accessible to a wide range of readers. He does an excellent job of breaking down complex concepts and explaining them in a way that is easy to understand.

Additionally, the book is well-researched and provides a wealth of information and data to support the author's arguments.

The book provides a valuable and timely contribution to the ongoing conversation around the role of tech companies in society. It is thought-provoking, well-written, and offers a unique perspective on some of the most pressing issues of our time. Recommended for anyone interested in technology and its impact on society.

Profile Image for Scott Wozniak.
Author 13 books73 followers
September 10, 2020
This is book full of stories about hard situations where technology, government and cultures are pulling on each other. It isn't a technical book, though. It's about the society impact and the big questions that are underneath all these situations. It covers situations like privacy (when should they share customer data with police forces?), getting internet connections to all communities (the normal method in America is to see if internet is available somewhere in the county--leaving many cities without it still today), and Chinese/American tensions over technology sharing.

These giant tech companies are being put in the position to act like major governments and it was fascinating to see how one of them (Microsoft) is owning that and trying to be a thoughtful, positive influence. I don't agree with all of the positions they have taken, but I love that they are being intentional about it.
244 reviews6 followers
February 4, 2020
In a world where immense amounts of data are saved to the cloud, tech companies are more and more powerful, and their behavior in managing that information (our digital lives, but that affects most parts of our offline lives) is vitally important. In a global digital world, your data could be racking up digital miles all over the world even while you sleep, and without your knowledge.

In Tools and Weapons, Microsoft President Brad Smith and Carol Ann Browne address a wide range of issues, such as surveillance, social media, digital diplomacy, artificial intelligence, and ethics. Smith provides a fascinating overview of issues past and present with respect to the above, as well as government regulation and how tech companies respond to social issues (for example, there are chapters on consumer privacy, rural broadband, and the talent gap with respect to computer science).

The book is easy to read and understand, even for a lay person, and is a fascinating overview of these areas of concern. Smith provides the reader with an insider view of major events in the tech industry that continue to be relevant, and provides a peek into Microsoft's decision-making process. Microsoft is a lot more proactive and socially conscious than I ever realized. I particularity enjoyed hearing about how Microsoft worked with other organizations and governments to address various issues.

More than anything, the book gives a lot of food for thought about the benefits, negatives, and things to be aware of related to ever-evolving technology. Having read the book I am better informed, which is exactly what I was hoping for from Tools and Weapons.

The opinions in this review are honest and my own.

32 reviews
April 6, 2021
Excellent thought provoking book. Particularly chapters on ethics as applied to cutting edge technology. Well researched (with copious end matter references) and written with an insider's view on technology over the last 10-15 years. Many references to historic similarities which assisted me in engaging with current technology trends and historic events. I suspect that much of this book within 10-20 years will become out dated, but there are many general principles that are worthwhile.
Profile Image for Barbie Adamson.
164 reviews1 follower
January 24, 2020
This was a pretty interesting book, although I did think it was a bit too simplified in the content discussed and a bit too long. The digital diplomacy and consumer privacy were two very great chapters. The ending in open data revolution was a logical conclusion but with flaws.
Profile Image for Skyler Jokiel.
18 reviews1 follower
December 24, 2020
Aside for the technical insights, Brad offers a unique view into the workings and wide impact of one of the largest Global corporations in the world.
Profile Image for Tõnu Vahtra.
534 reviews73 followers
April 19, 2020
I was looking for new insights from this book, but the description of the challenges (privacy and GDPR, cyber war, surveillance, social media, moral conundrums of AI, challenges to democracy) was way too generic. Primarily the book is actually about Microsoft and how the company responded to those challenges. I was also slightly alienated by the patronizing tone that was occasionally used. You are better off reading about these challenges separately and also reading a few books that are intentionally written about Microsoft.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 191 reviews

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