The wave of technology breakthroughs in cloud computing, artificial intelligence, and smarter devices brings with it an abundance of opportunity. Yet it also presents a pressing need to ensure the benefits of those innovations are available to everyone, according to Microsoft's president and chief legal officer Brad Smith.
"We need to move technology forward without leaving people behind," said Smith during a speech at a Microsoft (msft) tech conference in Dublin on Monday. He stressed that both private sector tech companies and governments need to play a role here.
"One of defining issues of 2016 and of our time is how we ensure we can have innovation and economic growth that is genuinely inclusive," Smith said, explaining that would mean making sure technology is made available to currently underserved rural areas and to people with disabilities—not just the tech elites in Silicon Valley, the Pacific Northwest, and analogous wealthy communities.
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Some 1.2 billion people worldwide have some form of disability and 300 million people have some sort of visual impairment, he cited, elaborating further in a blog post.
Smith, the company's general counsel since 2002, was named president last year. He has driven Microsoft's response to the U.S. government's subpoenas for customer information stored in Microsoft's Azure cloud. In the effort to fight secretive gag orders on those governmental subpoenas, he has drawn support from Microsoft (msft) rivals Google (goog), Amazon (amzn), and others.
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"Little did we know when we launched our data center in Ireland, it would lead to litigation with us suing our government," Smith noted.
In 2013, Microsoft fought a warrant from a U.S. federal court judge telling the company to turn over email and related information about some users because that customer data was stored in Ireland—not the United States. That suit is under appeal.
For more, read: Microsoft Azure Heads to Paris
Microsoft and cloud rivals like Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud have to tread a fine line between protecting users' data privacy and complying with law enforcement or other official government requests for their information.