Ben Shepard
Ben Shepard

Duke News

Keep up with our core and affiliated faculty in the national and international news. Read their op-ed pieces, quotes and interviews, and cutting-edge research findings.

Thu, Apr 18

The Honorable Tommy Sowers Joins Duke Science & Society on the Frontier of Applied Technology Ethics

Duke Science & Society welcomes Tommy Sowers back to Duke as Faculty Lead of Applied Technology Ethics.

Applied Ethics Plus 2024 website banner featuring project hosts OpenAI, UNESCO, OECD, Center for Humane Technology, and Regeneron

With a rich background leading a wide variety of teams – including Green Berets on the battlefield, in business with startups raising venture capital, in high levels of government as an Assistant Secretary, and most recently leading a company through its IPO – Sowers brings a wealth of expertise and passion to a role that demands a keen understanding of varying and often competing stakeholder interests.

“I’ve loved this institution for decades, and I’m excited to contribute to it again,” says Sowers on his return to Duke University. Previously he helped direct the Hart Leadership Program and created and co-taught the course Mission Driven Startups. Sowers now turns his enthusiasm to applying ethics toward solving society’s urgent scientific and technological issues. His first opportunity will be directing the Duke Applied Ethics+ program.

“This course should be an inflection point for students,” says Sowers. “It should attract problem solvers and end with a real solve.” Applied Ethics+ is a summer learning experience that pairs Duke students with prominent host organizations to address pressing real-world challenges in policy, technology, research, and ethics. This year’s partnerships include OpenAI, UNESCO, and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“The next five to ten years will be a truly transformational age,” says Sowers. “To be at the center of that in the Duke Applied Ethics Program is a real honor.”

Sowers will play a key role in teaching and mentoring undergraduate and graduate students, developing curriculum, and building relationships with industry leaders and faculty to foster meaningful collaborations.

“Tommy brings a remarkable blend of leadership, experience, and vision to our team,” says Science & Society Director Nita Farahany. “His expertise in navigating the ethical and practical challenges of today’s technological landscape uniquely positions him to guide our future pioneers. We are eager to see the new paths he will forge for our students, our partner organizations, and the broader community.”

Sowers earned a Bachelor of Arts in Public Policy from Duke University as well as a Master of Science in Public Policy and Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. His distinguished career demonstrates a commitment to leveraging technology as a force for innovation and positive change.


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Ben Shepard
Assistant Directory for Marketing & Communications
Duke University Initiative for Science & Society

Wed, Apr 10

Nita Farahany to Talk Neurotech, Privacy Rights at ISU Monday

Maybe you’ve heard about Neuralink, the company co-founded by Elon Musk that’s developing a brain chip.

Or maybe you’ve heard of the SmartCap-made headband used by thousands of companies worldwide that uses EEG sensors to detect how tired a user is.

Almost certainly, you’re familiar with the concept of an MRI, a form of medical imagining technology that uses radio waves and magnetic fields to create an image of the internal parts of the body — like the brain.

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Wed, Apr 10

AI Chatbots Sucked Up Troves of Data. Now Copyright Holders Want a Cut

HOW do ChatGPT and other chatbots generate written works, images and music to rival the output of a talented human? By ingesting content that people already created and identifying patterns in the material so they can produce something new. These generative artificial intelligence platforms have hoovered up 19th-century novels, beat poetry, draft contracts, movie scripts, photo essays, millions of songs and everything in between on the way to becoming the most disruptive technological force since the invention of the internet.

It turns out this vast trawling of mankind’s past endeavors doesn’t come for free. News organizations, novelists, music publishers and others whose copyrighted works were fed into the chatbots’ large language models as part of their training are demanding a share of the profits.

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Tue, Apr 09

How AI Risks Creating A ‘Black Box’ At The Heart Of Us Legal System

Artificial intelligence (AI) is playing an expanding — and often invisible — role in America’s legal system. While AI tools are being used to inform criminal investigations, there is often no way for defendants to challenge their digital accuser or even know what role it played in the case.

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Mon, Apr 08

A Breakthrough Online Privacy Proposal Hits Congress

While some states have made data privacy gains, the US has so far been unable to implement protections at a federal level. A new bipartisan proposal called APRA could break the impasse.

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