Smith holds BS, MS and PhD degrees from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). From 1981 to 1996 he was Principal Scientist at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) and Adjunct Professor of philosophy at Stanford University. He was a founder of the Center for the Study of Language and Information at Stanford University (CSLI), a founder and first President of Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), and President (1998-99) of the Society for Philosophy and Psychology (SPP). From 1996 to 2001 he was Professor of cognitive science, computer science, and philosophy at Indiana University, and from 2001 to 2003 was Kimberly J. Jenkins University Distinguished Professor of Philosophy and New Technologies and professor in the departments of Philosophy and Computer Science at Duke University.
Smith moved to the University of Toronto in 2003 to serve as Dean of the Faculty of Information (2003–2008), where he is currently Professor of information, philosophy, and cognitive science.