Smith believes privacy protection is set to gain traction in 2019, both in Europe and the United States.
Businesses in Europe will have to continue to find ways to interpret the General Data Protection Regulation — a 2016 law guarding the data and privacy of all those within the European Union. And California's new Consumer Privacy Act means the issue is becoming more widespread.
"Look to the next few months for the spread of privacy legislation to several other state capitals, all of which will set the stage for an even bigger debate on Capitol Hill," Smith says.
Fakes News and 'Disinformation'
Social media platforms have become a preferred means for nation-states to spread disinformation campaigns. And last year marked a "sea change" in our understanding of the problem, Smith says.
"The big question now is what will be done to address the problem," he writes.
While social media companies have begun to acknowledge their responsibilities and accountability, Smith suggests that new laws could be used to ensure that social media companies take the issue seriously. He mentions a white paper by Virginia Senator Mark Warner to "impose a duty on social media platforms to determine the origin of accounts or posts, identify bogus accounts and notify users when bots are spreading information."
The US/China relationship
The tech sector could be in for a bumpy ride this year when it comes to trans-Pacific trade, Smith says.
"Across the American political spectrum there is greater appreciation of China’s momentum in artificial intelligence and other technology and heightened concern about its economic and national security implications," writes Smith.
Smith likened the December arrest of Meng Wanzhou, the chief financial officer of Chinese smartphone maker Huawei, to a "Netflix drama." Talk of export controls on emerging tech like AI, and the potential for protectionist rules limiting acquisitions by foreign companies in Europe will become increasingly important stories to follow.
The increase of state-sponsored cyberattacks
State-sponsored cyberattacks are sure to increase, according to Smith, though are more likely to be "less visible." He cited 2017's most notable 'WannaCry' ransomware attack, which targeted Microsoft Windows operating systems.
Though, he wrote "digital diplomacy" has been spreading across the tech sector in the form of partnerships between governments, companies, and civil society groups.
Google abandoned a bid to work with with the US military after an employee urpoar over its use of artificial intelligence for the military. Other tech companies are bringing ethical questions to the table, too, Smith said, regarding those sorts of relationships.
Reiterating Microsoft's earlier statements that the company will continue to work with the US military, Smith said the company will at the same time "play a proactive role in addressing the ethical dimensions that require public policy attention" as concerns rise across industries — an issue that will inevitably be taken to Washington D.C.
The thorniest ethical tech question of the day, says Smith: facial recognition.
"Globally, this is an issue that’s just getting started."
Will AI impact jobs?
As artificial intelligence creeps its way into our homes and phones, people are increasingly worried about its impact on the job market, according to Smith.
While those concerns are not likely go away, Smith pointed to places like Japan and South Korea where automation could help offset population declines. "Continuing economic prosperity will require productivity advances from technology to replace a declining supply of human workers," Smith says.
An eye on the people behind the tech
In November of last year, the world saw Google employees walk out of work to protest the company's handling of sexual harassment, bringing attention to an industry that has been rather silent on its treatment of women and workers rights.
Smith writes, "the industry has a lot more progress ahead of it than behind it." Companies diversified, sure, but only slightly.
Immigration also has an impact on technology, as there is a "per-country limit for green cards" for workers. Making any sort of change would require congressional action, and an open government. That, he said, will take time.
Connecting the rural country
"Slower rural growth and higher unemployment often contributes to an even larger political divide," Smith says.
And one of the biggest problems constraining rural communities in the US is lack of high-speed broadband internet, "the electricity of the 21st century," according to Smith. The problem is much bigger than what the FCC's data would suggest, he says.
Smith points to new projects, such as combining TV White Space technology with existing wireless systems, as one promising development that Microsoft is betting on.
Governments around the world are increasingly keen to have datacenters in their own countries, giving them more control over its citizens' private data and affirming their national sovereignty.
But this trend also raises tricky questions about human rights.
"Once a local data-center is constructed, the citizenry’s most personal information can be stored within. This raises profound questions about when a government or a tech company can access personal data and how the information can be used," Smith writes.
As tech companies grow, so do their footprints in the places they're based. And not always in positive ways.
This issue was most prominent during Amazon's HQ2 bidding process, which became a national spectacle. Rapid corporate growth must be balanced with equal attention to how community infrastructure will be impacted — like schools, transportation, and affordable housing.
"What’s good for tech companies can challenge a community," says Smith.
Of course this issue isn't new to 2019. Take a look at cities like Seattle and San Francisco, home to a handful of tech giants, where the income divide can be seen by just walking down the street.