One of the more exciting aspects of life at Princeton is when public figures or experts in fields visit to participate in a conversation on a relevant, interesting topic. Recently, I had the opportunity of seeing two notable public figures come to campus and add to my Princeton memories. The President of Microsoft and Princeton University Trustee, Brad Smith ‘81, came to have a conversation with the host of “The Daily Show”, Trevor Noah. The event focused on Smith’s latest book (co-written with Carol Ann Browne), “Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age.”
For big events like this, the University tries to make ticket distribution as fair as possible. For these University-wide engagements, the announcement of the speaker and ticket information is sent to the undergraduate community via e-mail (among other reasons, this is why staying organized and on top of your emails is so important!). It is common for ticket distribution to take place in the ticket office at Frist Campus Center. For some of the more popular events, students line up for over an hour before the ticket office opens, ready to buy a ticket for themselves or a friend.
During this recent talk, Smith and Noah described how their shared fascination for technology and passion for ethics in the field allowed them to develop a friendship and business partnership. Noah included a stop at Microsoft when touring for his recent book, “Born a Crime: Stories of a South African Childhood”. There, the two met and subsequently began having conversations around innovation and the future of technology. Noah related his experiences of wonder to stories he told in his book about building computers as a child.
The conversation then shifted in a cool way as the two discussed some of the issues regarding technology in the modern age. Noah talked about the partnership he developed with Microsoft to deliver computers to the Johannesburg communities he was supporting through the Trevor Noah Foundation. What was particularly interesting to me was hearing Smith talk about Microsoft’s project to extend broadband—highspeed internet access—to rural areas across the globe. The two then began talking passionately about the importance of access to technology and education in underresourced communities. They noted that increasing such access addresses representation in the technology field but also helps to address ethical issues encountered by building artificial intelligence in a non-inclusive environment.
Overall, it was amazing to hear about Brad Smith’s experiences as a student on campus and the years since then, while also learning about Trevor Noah’s passion for technology and access for the Johannesburg youth, in addition to laughing at his jokes and quips. This talk exemplified one of the more fun and surprising aspects of Princeton: the ways in which we are able to learn outside the classroom, especially from the experts, themselves!