Tools and Weapons with Brad Smith

Ben Rhodes: The enduring power of language in the era of AI

Episode Summary

Ben Rhodes had a front-row seat to one of the great transformations of our time - how people consume and react to information on social media. From his post as Deputy National Security Advisor and speechwriter serving under Barack Obama, Ben watched, as this technology evolved from a democratizing force of the Arab Spring to a weapon used to spread disinformation and divide societies. In this episode, the bestselling author and podcaster discusses the transformative technology of today, Artificial Intelligence. He shares his perspective on how we can develop and deploy AI to serve society and help solve some of society’s biggest challenges while staying clear-eyed so that we can anticipate risk and navigate new challenges.

Episode Notes

Ben Rhodes had a front-row seat to one of the great transformations of our time - how people consume and react to information on social media. From his post as Deputy National Security Advisor and speechwriter serving under Barack Obama, Ben watched, as this technology evolved from a democratizing force of the Arab Spring to a weapon used to spread disinformation and divide societies.

In this episode, the bestselling author and podcaster discusses the transformative technology of today, Artificial Intelligence. He shares his perspective on how we can develop and deploy AI to serve society and help solve some of society’s biggest challenges while staying clear-eyed so that we can anticipate risk and navigate new challenges. 


Click here for the episode transcript

Episode Transcription

Brad Smith: I'm Brad Smith, and this is Tools and Weapons. On this podcast, I'm sharing conversations with leaders who are at the intersection of the promise and the peril of the digital age. We'll explore technology's role in the world as we look for new solutions for society's biggest challenges.

Ben Rhodes: I do think what we're going through are kind of the growing pains of the birth of a new American democracy and a new international order. If we can get through the next few years, there's a lot of things to be hopeful about.

Brad Smith: That's Ben Rhodes, bestselling author, podcaster, and former Deputy National Security Advisor and speech writer serving under President Barack Obama. From New York to Houston, to the staff of the 9/11 Commission in Washington DC, Ben's path into politics was not a typical one. But it landed him a front row seat to one of the great transformations of our time, how social media changed the way people consume and react to information.

From his post in the White House, Ben watched social media evolved from a democratizing force of the Arab Spring to a weapon used to spread disinformation and divide societies. In this conversation, we turn our attention to the transformative technology of today, artificial intelligence, and we reflect on how it can help people solve some of our most pressing challenges. To hear more conversations like this one, I invite you to follow or subscribe to the podcast wherever you're listening now. Ben Rhodes, up next on Tools and Weapons.

Brad Smith: Well, I'm delighted to be here today with Ben Rhodes. Ben, you're a noted writer, a political commentator, former Deputy National Security Advisor, close advisor and speech writer for President Barack Obama. You do so much work around the world today, you even do some work with us at Microsoft, which we deeply appreciate. Thank you for joining me.

Ben Rhodes: Good to be with you, Brad.

Brad Smith: Ben, you have had such an extraordinary perspective on the world now going back 15 years, but I want to start with your path into politics. You grew up in New York City, but you went to college at Rice University in Houston. What took you to Texas? That is not the place where most New Yorkers go to college.

Ben Rhodes: So I have actually a curiously blended family. My mother is your kind of quintessential New York Jewish family, Brooklyn, Upper West Side, Manhattan. My father though is from a small town in Texas, one of 42 first cousins and the only one to lead the state of Texas. And so I always had a little Texas in me. And after growing up in New York, I felt like it was important to live in a different part of the country, open myself up to different points of view.

And Rice is a great school, but it's also the kind of school that probably half of it is the valedictorian of the small town Texas high school. So it was definitely a culture shock, even though it's Houston, but it was one that I'm grateful for. I think if I just stayed in my lane, it would not have been as interesting.

Brad Smith: Well, it is fascinating because today you live in Los Angeles, so you've lived on both coasts and of course when you worked with candidate Barack Obama, you traveled the country. What did that experience do in college and then beyond, just to give you a point of view on life in the United States?

Ben Rhodes: It's a really good question. What I always think about in those terms is when I was working for him on the campaign, I was a speechwriter as one of the team of three speechwriters in the primary campaign. And in a primary campaign, let's just say I wrote a lot of remarks for small town Iowa audiences, and we were also compelled by our campaign leadership to go out and knock on doors in Iowa on the weekends. And then you kind of work through the primary map, and you'll remember that campaign with Hillary Clinton moved around the country.

And to try to meet people where they are, as Barack Obama, someone who took speeches seriously took engagement with audiences seriously. You had to kind of look at the world from the perspective of a farmer in Washington County, Iowa, not just Washington DC. Then you had to go look at the perspective of people in New Hampshire who are mainly worried about the price of heating oil, for instance, in the winter. The issues change, the perspectives change. And to me working on presidential campaigns, it's interesting.

Ben Rhodes: Some people who I know work on national security see politics as something where you get your hands dirty and it's not pure, like sitting at think tanks is. But to me, actually that experience of being on really two presidential campaigns taught me more about this country than I ever could have learned just studying it from afar. And so to me it's about knowing your audience. That's what any communication is about, and that's what I had to do on that campaign.

Brad Smith: One of the things I just have always found fascinating about you, Ben, is we think about people who write speeches or people who engage in politics as people who are always comfortable and confident and eager to argue a case. And yet one of the wonderful, and even just inspiring anecdotes in your first book, The World As It Is: Inside the Obama White House.

Something that has always resonated with me is the story you tell of being invited to the first meeting with the team, with then candidate Obama. And you were not at that time self-confident, especially just talking off the cuff in a meeting like that. Can you describe that to us?

Ben Rhodes: It's funny, for someone who talks so much for living now, I used to be terrified of it, just like I think most people are, any speaking in public, including just speaking in rooms of people that I didn't know. And I was 29 years old and I was working for a guy named Lee Hamilton, who was the co-chair of the 9/11 Commission, ran a think tank in DC but I was desperately trying to work my way onto the Obama campaign.

And I got a phone call from the foreign policy advisor for Obama, a guy named Mark Lippert, and he said, "Can you come to debate prep with Obama?" And I said, "Sure, when?" And he said, "It's happening right now." So I had no notice, no time to prepare. I walk a few blocks, feeling all these nerves. I walk into this room, there is Barack Obama, already one of the most famous people in the world, with his feet up on a conference room table that is surrounded by political advisors like David Axelrod and foreign policy advisors like Susan Rice or probably 10, 15 people in that room.

Ben Rhodes: And I kind of disappeared into a chair and hoped that nobody would call on me. And they weren't even talking about the debate. They were talking about whether he should vote for essentially the Iraq War surge, to fund the surge. And Obama though has this habit of wanting to go around the room and hear from everyone. And at one point he kind of looks in my direction and he sees that the guy next to me is asking me something. And he's like, "Well, why don't you just... Who's that?

Why doesn't he tell us what he thinks?" And I literally felt my stomach come out of my mouth and the way that anybody who's had that kind of fear has felt. And I knew I wasn't going to be able to give my advice. So I on the spot was like, I'm going to have to ask him questions. And so I said to him, "Well, you opposed the surge in Iraq, right?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "And this legislation funds that surge, right?" And he said, "Yes." And I said, "And you've introduced legislation to wind down the war that this doesn't."

Ben Rhodes: And I asked a few questions like this, feeling like I could barely hold it together. And he finally kind of sees where I'm going. He's like, "Why don't you just tell me what you're getting at?" And I finally mustered the courage to say, "Well, this bill doesn't fund your policy. You should vote against it." It was interesting because I didn't realize at the time that I was auditioning. He came over, he shook my hand. He said, "Thanks so much for doing that."

And then Mark Lippert, the foreign policy advisor told him he'd just been called up to go to Iraq to serve in the surge, and they needed someone to take his place. And I guess I had passed my audition while almost fainting on the spot, but it's been a long time of training to get myself through that.

Brad Smith: Well, another, I just think, fascinating aspect of your story and your experiences. You passed the audition, you started writing some extraordinarily important speeches. Cairo, the speech after the Arab Spring at the White House when President Obama announced that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I think gives you an almost unique ability to think about the role of speeches in changing the course of history and enabling leaders to bring together their thoughts and then lead people in a new direction.

Brad Smith: You're working on a book now on that very topic. Tell us about your next book.

Ben Rhodes: It's interesting. Obama used to say something, I describe a couple of times in my first book, The World as It Is, sometimes where we get a lot of grief for how much he focused on speeches. And he used to say, "No, actually that's our whole job in the White House, is to tell a story about America." And what he meant by that, it's not just his speeches, everything, the policies, the priorities, the staging, for lack of a better word, frankly. And the speeches we were inventing America, as everybody does who occupies that office. But the basic point that I think everybody can agree on, or should agree on at least, is that because the United States is not founded on a single ethnicity or religion, because the United States isn't even founded on one single geography. It's 13 colonies, it became states that then grew. The story we tell about who we are is actually our national identity in a way that is not the case if you're French or German or Chinese or from a place that has a different kind of basis for being a nation.

And so I'd always thought that this was something worth exploring. And given how contentious everything is, I thought it'd be interesting to go back and pick 15 speeches that essentially are all about this question of who are we as Americans. Starting from the beginning, and the first speech is Benjamin Franklin at the Constitutional Convention making the case for compromise, making the case for the fact that the only way we're going to have a country is if everybody doesn't get what they want. Which is a pretty interesting place to begin the story, and it's really where our story begins. Our story begins with people deciding not to resolve their differences over everything.

Ben Rhodes: And I think that explains a lot to where we are, for good and bad. And basically you can trace the fact that we've been having versions of the same argument for 250 years now. And it may seem like this is the most intense version it's ever been, and the next election is the most important election of our lifetimes, every cycle. But the reality is we've been through a lot of intense things and you trace American history through speeches and you're going to walk the pathway of abolitionism and secession and Civil War and the Gilded Age and populism and progressivism and the New Deal and the civil rights movement. We've been through versions of the same fights that we're going through now. And I think that by looking back and understanding how we narrated that and how we spoke our way into new identities, we can understand a little bit better where we're going.

Brad Smith: One aspect of a speech is that it needs to reach people in order to have the impact that a leader wants. Going back to Benjamin Franklin, those first speeches were basically communicated to people largely through leaflets in newspapers. And communications has constantly been changing the way the content of speeches have reached people. Obviously in our modern day it's been television and then video. And during your years in the White House, social media. How did social media impact the way you thought about the role of technology in the world?

Ben Rhodes: It's a really interesting question. I mean, first of all, you'll like this anecdote, Brad, just to show that there's always the delivery of the speech, but then also the dissemination. Ben Franklin gave that speech to a closed session, The Constitutional Convention, and stressed that everything had to stay behind closed doors. No leaks out of this room because we don't want to be airing our differences. And then the first thing he did afterwards is make sure that every newspaper that he had an affiliation with reprinted his speech in full. That was the benefit of controlling the printing presses in those days.

For me, social media transformed everything in terms of our own communication and obviously in terms of global politics too. In 2008, people consumed whole speeches by Barack Obama. He would give a speech, they would run it on television in full if it was a major speech, and you had a shot at reaching a pretty big chunk of people that way. The secondary audience, even in 2008, was still getting a pretty straight writeup or broadcast of Obama's speech. So what I mean by that is if Obama gives a 45-minute speech on race as he did during the campaign, the articles in local papers around the country are going to be pretty factual about here's what Obama said, and here's some of the key quotes. The evening news was still going to have a three-minute package with some good clips of the speech, and you'd reach people in that way.

Ben Rhodes: That world disappeared by 2016. And it disappeared for a number of reasons, and social media was kind of chief among them. I started to notice it that people were actually consuming, not only were they responding to the speech on social media, that's the first thing you notice, the instant reaction on Twitter. He's not even done with the speech and people are already mad that he hasn't said something, and I'm like, wait til the end. That's in the next page. But then what I started noticing is people were only consuming any content about Obama via, it's been packaged on social media. And so you're not reading a straight writeup in your local newspaper because that local newspaper went out of business because it didn't get any ad revenue. And so your only thing of Obama is the clip that distorts something that he said that your friend shared with you on Facebook that makes Obama look like he's a dictator preparing to come around and take everybody's guns away or something.

And so social media kind of transformed the way that people consumed the presidency because they were no longer reading the local newspaper, they were no longer watching a relatively dispassionate broadcast. They're basically either getting their version of propaganda on television, the radio, or more likely they're just getting snippets of things on social media designed to trigger them.

Ben Rhodes: And you felt like, a certain audience that we talked about, Iowa, Obama won Iowa significantly both times. I think by 2016, that white rural farmer in Iowa that was open to Barack Obama in 2008 was probably sitting at home and consuming clips of Barack Obama meant to make him look like the worst version of himself, and that person was out of reach. And so I think social media shrunk the number of people that you could actually try to persuade. And I think that's had a huge impact.

And so for me as a communicator, it meant that we had to find creative ways to use social media to reach audiences. And so where it hurt us in reaching a mass audience, where it helped us is we could find our audience. Young people aren't signing up for the Affordable Care Act, Obamacare. Okay, we're going to do a whole social media push on this. And we saw surges in people signing up after he sat down and did a YouTube show with Zach Galifianakis or after we had some certain influencers. And so the opportunity is you can reach people much closer to where they are, but the downside obviously is you can't speak to the whole country in one conversation. And I think that's the feeling we've all had. And we could get into the global politics of it because it was only magnified on the world stage.

Brad Smith: Looking back, there's a lot of discussion today about whether governments let social media go too far and for too long without any work to impose regulatory or legal guardrails around it. If you could go back to say 2010 or 2012, knowing everything that you now know, would you propose that the White House do something different a decade ago?

Ben Rhodes: I would. It's funny, you get asked a lot about your mistakes when you get out of government, and this is one that I think doesn't get enough attention. Here's what I would've done. I mean by 2011, it was apparent the massive power of social media. Obviously it helped get Obama elected, because it was an organizing tool for us. But by 2011, you had the Arab Spring and you're seeing that this is rocking the global political order. And it is a tool of mass mobilization, of instant dissemination of information. It's putting pressure on governments that never existed before because stuff is visible that is happening on the side of the world. That's all seemingly to the good. But on the other side, you started to see after the Arab Spring, the kind of world autocrats, if there literally was a meeting of the world's autocrats, they would've had that meeting during the protest in Egypt in Tahrir Square in 2011 and said, if we don't figure out a strategy to deal this, it's going to consume us all.

And so we have to take social media and turn it from being a threat to being the kind of perfect tool of disinformation or surveillance. Disinformation in the Russian case, we're just going to break this algorithm and use it for our own purposes to divide people and to trigger people and to turn them against each other. Or surveillance, I think in the Chinese playbook, which is essentially, okay, we need to get total control of this thing and then we can use it to watch everybody.

Ben Rhodes: And while that wasn't immediately apparent in 2011, I do think it was becoming increasingly apparent as we get into 2012. And I do think an effort to sit down and think about are there ways to change the design of these platforms. Not to police speech on them, but essentially the platforms were designed clearly to trigger people. That the information that traveled the fastest is not the true information or even the most useful information. It's the information that's going to make you afraid or angry. And by the way, we saw this, Brad, I had some responsibility for online radicalization. And so when we looked at it from an Islamic radicalization standpoint, you could see that a YouTube that is about a foreign policy issue where you don't like the United States or something is like two clicks away from content from Al-Qaeda. Why would that not be the case for other segments of society? We devoted all this bandwidth to trying to slow the process of radicalization in certain spaces and just ignoring it as it's happening across the country. Now, it's not easy, but I think we could have done more to try to surface the point of is there a safer way from a public safety standpoint to design the algorithms that drive these social media platforms so that they're not perfect delivery systems for disinformation or they're simply just not designed to turn people against each other.

Brad Smith: It's a new decade and now we're talking about a new technology, AI. It's the early stages at least, of so called generative AI. In the wake of ChatGPT and all of these new models, what lessons do you think we should take from social media as we consider how to address AI?

Ben Rhodes: I think that there's a few different lessons to take, and some of them I feel like are already being taken, which is good. The first is, if you remember the wave of social media, '08, '09, '10, all the focuses on the positive. This is going to bring everybody together. This is going to knock down walls. This is going to allow people to organize. And there wasn't enough thinking around the corners as to, well, how could this go wrong? And so that applies to AI in the sense of, yes, it's very important to emphasize positive uses, but I think it's also imperative to red team what could go wrong here. And the way to red team what could go wrong leads into the second point I'd make, which is, and you've written about this brad in tools and weapons, but the technology... We make a mistake sometimes in treating technology like it's some separate being, which is maybe an AI. It could be, but it's what are people going to do with this?

Brad Smith: In terms of social media, you had to think to see around those corners, you had to not just think about what is a consumer going to do with this or a college kid going to do with this? You had to think, what is Vladimir Putin going to do with this? What is Xi Jinping going to do with this? What are North Korean hackers going to do with this? And so you have to project onto the technology, what negativity or negative agendas might exist in the world. And then try to red team, okay, I need to consider what this technology might be able to do in the worst possible hands, which is not how the people design the technology think, because obviously they're thinking about positive uses. If one point is anticipate what could go wrong in addition to anticipating and planning for what should go right, it's also projecting forward.

And I have to think of this not just in the hands of the most responsible actor, I have to think of this in everybody's hands and figure out then therefore, how do we protect that? I think the other things are education of people. People didn't understand... They didn't understand social media, they still don't. The best example I heard about this, Brad, was I worked a lot on Myanmar. And Myanmar went from 0% internet penetration to 95 almost overnight when they opened up in the aughts, late aughts, early teens. And all of a sudden a country that had before only state media, people have Facebook and the whole experience of the internet is Facebook because there were no computers. You just get a phone and they put the Facebook app on it. They had no idea that everything that they read on Facebook wasn't true. They just assumed it was.

Brad Smith: And so then they start having hate campaigns and they're starting to hear the Buddhists raped this Muslim woman or the Muslims raped this Buddhist woman. And there's just mass intercommunal violence. It was like a social experiment on what can go wrong. And there was no literacy about it. Now, even Americans I would suggest have not demonstrated that we can tell what is true and what is conspiracy theory. And so the literacy piece, just educating people about it, making sure people understand the benefits and risks of it are really important. And doing that in a way that expands the conversation to all kinds of communities so that the people developing these technologies like Microsoft are going out and having conversations, not just with app developers, but like as I've seen you do, Brad, getting out and talking to people at the local level, at the community level about what to expect and about what they think Microsoft and others who are developing generative AI need to be aware of.

Brad Smith: There's a lot of talk in the world today about what AI means for geopolitics, for competition between countries, certainly the competition between the United States and China. How do you think about the impact of AI on the bilateral relationship between the countries, the United States and China, that have the two biggest economic markets in the world?

Ben Rhodes: I think it's going to be massive. You already had a situation where the US and China were disentangling, decoupling, whatever you want to call it. We're getting a little bit more concerned about being overly exposed to one another and wanting to have a somewhat more secure supply chains on sensitive issues or issues relevant to national security. And it's interesting, the Chinese version of national security is incredibly inward focused, and the US version of national security tends to be incredibly outward focused. And so those two dynamics clash on AI because essentially the outward looking US version of national security is going to say, " I don't want them to get it before we do." And so what you're already seeing is the US building this massive regime of export controls and limitations on not just technological inputs to China, but also limitations on investment into China, venture capital into China.

And that develops its own momentum, Brad. I've been in government, once you give the task to the Treasury Department and the sanctions people, they don't figure out ways to remove those controls. They find new controls to put in place. And suddenly you got into something for one reason, like, "Well, we want to deny them this chip." But then it's like, "Well, we have to deny them also the inputs that go into that chip. And then we have to deny them the investment that might be funneled into making that." And suddenly the US restrictions are growing. Then the Chinese version of national security is going to say, "We need our own. We need to develop this. We don't want to do this collaboratively with others. We need indigenous technology that we control and we need our own supply chains for that too."

Ben Rhodes: And so in addition to disentangling the two countries, I think it's going to force a lot of other countries that like usually to get along with both the United States and China to figure out, "Well, do I have to essentially choose US tech or Chinese tech? Do I have to choose certain supply chains that I'm a part of and not a part of?" And that's happening, that sorting is happening, but I think it's going to be messier than people think because as you know better than I, the amount of exposure and interaction between the US and Chinese economy and the way in which technology interacts, you can't just flip a switch and do this. And so I think there's going to be a pretty tense sorting out here, nor can you by the way, prevent China from ever developing this technology. I think the US is going to do what it's going to do in this space, but I think at a certain point there's likely going to have to be some dialogue around where can we actually find some collaborative space, even if it's just in risk management.

Brad Smith: And do you see an opportunity to do that, to find some common ground on say, the harms that need to be addressed, the values that should underlie sort of an ethical or responsible approach to AI?

Ben Rhodes: I do. I tend to be probably a little bit more engagement focused when it comes to the Chinese and most of Washington these days. But look, I think that first of all, the most extreme harm should be the obvious place to start. In the height of the Cold War we could talk to the Soviet Union about nuclear arms control. I'm not suggesting that AI's at that level of destruction, but what I am suggesting is that why wouldn't we want to work with China to put in controls around things like biological weapons? Why wouldn't we? There's nothing gained from not trying to identify... We may not want to set the same rules of the road for all aspects of AI in any near-term timeframe when we're in such a competitive, if not confrontational place, but can we identify the most extreme risks and make that the floor of a set of global norms?

And by the way, if you can do that, that floor becomes what you build upon when you start getting along a little better and you might want to expand that collaboration into a different space. And the other reason I think it's imperative is I think other countries want us to do it, including our allies. If you go to Europe or our Asian allies of the United States, and I travel a lot and talk to these folks a lot, they don't want to have just one conversation about AI just with the US. They're like, "Can we invite the Chinese into this because they're going to be a part of it and they already are?" And so I think the US as a good ally needs to be responsive to that interest.

Brad Smith: You've seen so much over the last 15 years, and you're so connected with these issues around the world today. You've written your second book about really what it means to be an American in the world today. Fundamentally, as you think about what has been an extraordinary decade, and it's only the third year of it, are you optimistic or pessimistic about how you think the rest of this decade will unfold?

Ben Rhodes: I think the honest truth of that, Brad, is I'm pretty pessimistic about the short term. And by short term, I mean, next few years. But I actually remain optimistic about the long-term provided we can get through the next few years because, I mean, here's how I look at it. There's been an unraveling happening in the international system for a while now, and the basic assumption is that undergirded globalization.

My career in government started right after the financial crisis, and it felt like something had already broken at that point. And so, we're in the backdraft of a lot of things that would take a long time for us to diagnose here. But essentially, there's no agreed upon international order anymore. We're back in the law of the jungle. We're back in the pre-World War I context of big powers fighting it out. We're back in a world in which there's ethnonationalism, which can lead to the justification for conquest and violence. And we have a major war in Europe and we've got a war brewing in the Middle East and we've got a flashpoint in Taiwan and we've got a pretty dysfunctional America. So I think we have to own that and we can't pretend like that's not happening.

Ben Rhodes: That said, I think people are quite aware of this. We're not sleepwalking right now. You travel a lot and you talk to people, everybody from decision makers, but also just regular people following the news. I think people are aware that we're in a very high stakes period here and would prefer to not repeat the extreme mistakes of the past where you needed a world war to jolt you out of this thing. I think we're in for a lot of turbulence the next few years, and I hope that we can limit the damage of the existing conflicts, and I hope we can hold the center in our own politics.

And then, I really do think that if we can do that, we'll get to an equilibrium that is different than what happened before. We're not going to go back to the '90s. We're not going to go back to the unipolar US-led world. But if we can avoid a major global conflagration, I do think what we're going through are the growing pains of the birth of a new American democracy and a new international order. And if we can get through the next few years, there's a lot of things to be hopeful about, and the benefits that could come from generative AI could be a part of what's good, even as obviously they pose risks.

Brad Smith: There's so much to keep people up at night. You're obviously somebody who is focused on and worries about so many things around the world. But let me ask you a different question. What gets you up in the morning? What do you find as the greatest source of energy and optimism?

Ben Rhodes: For me, I honestly think people are more good than bad. Most people I meet are good people. I've got two young kids. They're delightful, wonderful, values-driven people. I want to do right by them. But I think this is something we have to remind ourselves all the time, Brad, because it can look ugly out there, but it always is. There's not some time in history when there were no wars and no autocrats and no problems with new technologies, right? Most people, though, are basically decent people that just want to make a good living or want to live a purpose-driven life, and we have to constantly remind ourselves that because that also allows us to remember that not everybody's like a combatant in some political war. They're people you might not agree with about everything, but they're fundamentally decent people. And so I'm not saying I wake up with that every day, but on my better days, I'm able to remind myself of that.

Brad Smith: Yeah, I do think it's an important reminder. People are people. The most powerful leaders in the world are still people. We're all connected. And it doesn't mean everybody is good, it doesn't mean that everyone shares the same values, but there is a connection, and I think finding that serves us well.

Brad Smith: Ben Rhodes, thank you so much for joining me today. I think you've given us an enormous amount of food for thought, and I think there's something that speaks to something that's important to just about everybody. So appreciate your time.

Ben Rhodes: Thanks, Brad. It was a great conversation.

Brad Smith: You've been listening to Tools and Weapons with me, Brad Smith. If you enjoyed today's show, please follow us wherever you like to listen.

Our executive producers are Carol Ann Browne and Aaron Thiese. This episode of Tools and Weapons was produced by Corina Hernandez and Jordan Rothlein. This podcast is edited and mixed by Jennie Cataldo with production support by Sam Kirkpatrick at Run Studios. Original music by Angular Wave Research. Tools and Weapons is the production of Microsoft, made in partnership with Listen.