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Microsoft President Brad Smith speaking at Seattle’s Town Hall in 2019. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

Microsoft President Brad Smith said Tuesday that the time to regulate artificial intelligence is now, speaking at the annual gathering of the global elite, the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

“We should not wait for the technology to mature before we start to put principles, and ethics, and even rules in place to govern AI,” Smith said.

Why it matters: Microsoft is leading a growing pack of tech companies calling for AI regulations at a time when the public is growing more wary of the power that the technology industry wields. Facial recognition software is at the center of the debate, as one of the first widespread applications of artificial intelligence — one that is already showing how complicated the technology can be. Microsoft and its Seattle tech titan peer, Amazon, both sell facial recognition software.

Yes, but: Though Microsoft is one of the most vocal advocates for regulation of AI and facial recognition, there’s still a debate over what shape the rules should take. Several U.S. cities, including San Francisco, have banned government agencies from using facial recognition software. The European Union is considering a five-year ban on the technology’s use in public spaces. Smith compared the moratoriums to using a “meat cleaver” instead of a “scalpel” earlier this week. Google CEO Sundar Pichai said he would defer to regulators. “It’s up to governments to chart the course,” Pichai said.

Take note: Smith said chatter that Microsoft and Google diverge on facial recognition was overblown during the Davos panel. “The truth is I actually think our two companies mostly are on these things,” he said.

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