S&S Dialogues

Informal opportunities to gather over lunch and discuss current events, cutting-edge research, and works in progress at the intersection of science and society.

S&S Dialogues are informal opportunities to gather over lunch and discuss current events, cutting-edge research, and works in progress at the intersection of science and society. Each month, we bring together two experts in STEM and the humanities to discuss a common topic. Our guests will present information and lead a discussion about the implications of the chosen topic for society, bioethics, and policy. For faculty, the group serves as a time for exploring current issues and for freely sharing opinions in a collaborative setting; for students and young professionals, the group serves as a venue for learning more about the intersection of law, ethics, and policy. Interested individuals at all levels of career and training are welcome to attend. Held monthly on Thursdays from noon – 1 p.m.

Upcoming Dialogues

Check back soon for details on the Spring 2019 S&S Dialogues series!


Past Dialogues

From Vacuum Tubes to Superposition, How Quantum Computing Could Change the World
Tuesday, November 13th, 2018, noon – 1 p.m.

For 80 years computers have worked basically the same way: Electric circuits flip bits on or off (1’s and 0’s) to perform calculations. With only two states, traditional circuits are limited and have a hard time calculating very complex operations.

Enter quantum computing. You might have heard the buzz over this mysterious tech. It has been touted as the biggest breakthrough in computer technology since the invention of the microprocessor, but what exactly is it and how does it differ from traditional computing? What benefits might quantum computing have for advancing AI and machine learning or modeling the natural world? What threats does it pose to existing cryptography, data security, and networking? How will an exponential jump in computer power affect your life?

With Guest Panelists:
Dr. Kenneth R. Brown
Associate Professor in Duke’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Professor of Chemistry, and Professor of Physics

Professor Kevin Lee
Associate Professor of Law at Campbell University’s Norman Adrian Wiggins School of Law

Reining in the Opioid Crisis While Treating Those in Pain

Thursday, March 29th, 2018, noon – 1 p.m.

More than 60,000 people in the US died of drug overdoses in 2017. Chronic pain afflicts an estimated 100 million Americans; many of whom rely on opioids to help ameliorate their pain. Efforts to restrict the availability of opioids has yet to stem the rising death toll. But, are those in chronic pain becoming the collateral damage in the war on opioids? Examine these two parallel public health crises from the perspective of a policy maker and a clinician.

Regina LaBelle, was Chief of Staff at the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Obama administration and is now a Visiting Fellow at Duke’s Margolis Center on Health Policy. Dr. Tony Galanos is a Professor of Medicine at Duke and specialist in palliative care, end of life care and geriatrics, who regularly treats patients in chronic pain. Join their discussion.

Bringing Drones and Data to the Farm with Precision Agriculture
Tuesday, February 20th, 2018, noon – 1 p.m.

While we may retain romantic images of agriculture as a low-tech industry stuck in the past, small and large farms alike are now using drones, satellite imagery, detailed maps, and even machine learning to maximize agricultural output while minimizing resource use. In this S&S Dialogues event, two agriculture insiders will dive into the field of precision agriculture, explain how technology has already modernized farming and what changes will occur in the future.


Dr. Ramon Leon, Crops and Soil Sciences, NCSU

Maggie Monast MEM ‘11, Senior Manager, Economic Incentives – Agricultural Sustainability, Environmental Defense Fund (Raleigh, NC)

Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Work
Thursday, January 25th, 2018, noon – 1 p.m.

Predictions about the impacts of artificial intelligence in the workplace range from improving productivity to the complete annihilation of industries, with recent reports warning that hundreds of millions of jobs could be lost to automation within 15 years. In this S&S Dialogues event, two AI experts, Vince Conitzer and Frank Levy, will discuss the myths and realities of emerging AI technologies, including what’s here, what’s coming, and what needs to be done to minimize the threats and maximize the benefits.


Vincent Conitzer is the Kimberly J. Jenkins University Professor of New Technologies and Professor of Computer Science, Professor of Economics, and Professor of Philosophy at Duke University. Most of his research is on artificial intelligence (especially multiagent systems) and economic theory (especially game theory, social choice, and mechanism design).

Frank Levy is Daniel Rose Professor Emeritus at MIT and a Senior Rsearch Associate in the Department of Health Care Policy of Harvard Medical School.  Since the late 1990’s, Levy has studied the impact of computerized work and offshoring on U.S. occupations, skill demands, and income.

Articles and talks by Vince Conitzer and Frank Levy

Artificial intelligence: where’s the philosophical scrutiny?

Today’s Artificial Intelligence Does Not Justify Basic Income

Artificial Intelligence: Hype, Hope, or Hazaard?

Computers and Populism: Artificial Intelligence, Jobs and Politics in the Near Term


The Science & Ethics of Lab-Made Mini-Brains
Thursday, October 19, 2017, noon – 1 p.m.

Scientists are using a new method to grow mini-brains from human cells. These “brain organoids” – pea-sized three-dimensional brain proxies grown in petri dishes – could fundamentally change basic brain research, disease modeling, and personalized medicine. But brain organoids have broad ethical and legal implications as well. Are there emergent properties of the human brain — like consciousness, or memories — that organoids may have? What kind of research is ethical on brain organoids? What are the implications for concepts like brain death in law and medicine?


Albert Keung is an assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. His group is interested in the complex gene regulatory behaviors that are encoded by the epigenome and chromatin systems.

Nita Farahany is the director of Duke Science & Society, the Duke MA in Bioethics & Science Policy, and Professor of Law & Philosophy. She is a leading scholar on the ethical, legal, and social implications of biosciences and emerging technologies, particularly those related to neuroscience and behavioral genetics. In 2010, she was appointed by President Obama to the Presidential Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues, and served until 2017.


Beyond Bitcoin – Balancing the Good and Bad in the Blockchain 
Tuesday, September 26, 2017 12PM to 1PM

Blockchain – a decentralized, secure, and publicly verifiable system for enabling “trustless” transactions – has broad implications for how we transact over electronic networks. From cryptocurrencies to precision medicine, data privacy to diamond trading, your life is bound for the blockchain.

We kick off the 2017-2018 S&S Dialogue series with blockchain experts from the Duke Law School and the Department of Computer Science as we explore this burgeoning tech and its current and future impact on our world.

Interested in learning more about blockchain technology before the dialogue? Check out this helpful explanatory video.

Bruce MacDowell Maggs, PhD is the Pelham Wilder Professor of Computer Science at Duke University and Vice President and researcher of Akamai Technologies. His research focuses on distributed systems, including content delivery networks, computer networks, and computer and network security.

Jeff Ward, JD is Director of the Duke Center on Law & Technology. He aims not only to help lawyers thrive in tech-driven legal practice but also to facilitate Duke’s leadership at the intersection of law and technology. Jeff and his students explore the technologies that are here, the emerging technologies that are near, and the frontier technologies that make us say “Oh, my dear!”

The Internet of Things: An Unprecedented Window Into Your Life and Behavior 
Thursday, January 19, 2017

With an estimated 50 billion interconnected devices pouring data into the ether, should we expect a global economic and social bonanza or a giant step toward the loss of individual privacy?

This political season proved that technology as established as e-mail is highly vulnerable. How can we assure that the IoT explosion of data remains secure?

SAS Systems Architect Michael Thomas will present the terrain of IoT and demonstrate the power of combining IoT with immersive analytics techniques with augmented and virtual reality.

David Hoffman, Intel’s Associate General Counsel and Global Privacy Officer and member of Duke law faculty, will discuss how laws and public policy must adjust to “things” becoming part of the internet.


Driverless Cars – Are We Ready to Hand Over the Wheel?
Thursday, October 20, 2016

Driverless cars could save lives by replacing distracted, impaired, and otherwise imperfect human drivers with machines at the wheel. Recently, the Obama administration has promised strong safety oversight and has given the green light to automakers eager to roll out this new technology. Are we ready to let robots do the driving? How should lawmakers at the local, state, and national level set policy to determine liability, thwart harmful use, and protect consumer privacy?

Dr. Michael Clamann, senior research scientist at the Duke Humans and Autonomy Lab at the Pratt School of Engineering, and Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Professor of Practical Ethics in the Duke Department of Philosophy and the Kenan Institute for Ethics, will lead us through a discussion of the key technological and ethical issues posed by driverless vehicles.


Beyond Pokemon Go – Your Future With Augmented Reality
Thursday, September 22, 2016

For 30 million users Pokemon Go may have been their first hands-on experience with augmented (AR). Mobile tech has made it easier than ever to explore virtual environments for entertainment, but the Pokemon Go craze hints at far greater applications that will change the way we live. From art installations to anthropology, neuroscience to cyber-stalking, AR empowers us in ways previously impossible.

  • What makes the technology different today and what barriers still exist?
  • How is AR driving advances in health, research, and education?
  • What are some immediate concerns over the widespread use of AR in our daily lives?
  • What’s hype and what’s already a reality?

Join us for lunch and a discussion with Regis Kopper, PhD from the Duke DiVE Lab and Mark J. Olson, PhD, with the Duke Wired! group to discuss the Pokemon Go phenomenon and the effects of AR on society.

For more information on our 2014-2016 S&S Roundtables Series, click here.