Ben Shepard
Ben Shepard

Science & Society News

Learn what is happening inside the Duke Initiative for Science & Society. Stay up-to-date on our research, events, and student activities.

Fri, Jun 14

DJI Drones Could Be Banned in the US Soon – Here’s What You Need to Know

Drone brand DJI could soon be banned from operating in the United States. According to a report from The New York Times (NYT), a bill called the Countering CCP Drones Act “passed unanimously by the House Energy and Commerce Committee” last month.

The legislation will move on to a floor vote in the House of Representatives within the next two months. If it passes there, it’ll continue onward to the Senate and potentially the President of the United State’s desk. DJI has now furiously condemned the potential ban, with a spokesperson calling it “a dangerous precedent for allowing baseless allegations and xenophohic fears”.

There seem to be two main motivations behind this ban. One of the bill’s sponsors, Representative Elise Stefanik of New York, claims “DJI presents an unacceptable security risk” pointing to the company’s connection to the Chinese government. The NYT mentions how vulnerabilities were discovered back in 2020 that CCP officials could’ve utilized to access the personal information of American users. Although these vulnerabilities have since been patched, that hasn’t stopped the US Department of Defense from prohibiting its armed forces from buying the drones.

Mon, Jun 03

BBC Presenter’s Likeness Used In Advert After Firm Tricked By AI-generated Voice

There was something strange about her voice, they thought. It was familiar but, after a while, it started to go all over the place.

Science presenter Liz Bonnin’s accent, as regular BBC viewers know, is Irish. But this voice message, ostensibly granting permission to use her likeness in an ad campaign, seemed to place her on the other side of the world.

The message, it turns out, was a fake – AI-generated to mimic Bonnin’s voice. Her management team got hold of it after they saw the presenter’s face on online ads for an insect repellant spray this week, something for which she did not sign up.

“At the very beginning it does sound like me but then I sound a bit Australian and then it’s definitely an English woman by the end. It’s all fragmented and there’s no cadence to it,” said Bonnin, best known for presenting Bang Goes the Theory and Our Changing Planet.

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Fri, May 10

Microsoft Blocks Police Use of OpenAI for Facial Recognition Cameras

Microsoft has updated the list of acceptable uses of its Azure OpenAI Service, barring law enforcement from using it in facial recognition cameras.

The Azure OpenAI Services provides Microsoft’s cloud customers with access to models like GPT-4 Turbo and DALL-E from OpenAI.

Microsoft has now barred U.S. police departments from accessing the OpenAI models for “facial recognition purposes.”

While facial recognition systems rely on visual data inputs, OpenAI models like GPT-4 could be used to augment related processes. For example, a large language model could be used to improve user interfaces for facial recognition systems, generate natural language responses to queries or produce usage reports.

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Sun, May 05

Why Drake Had to Take Down His Song That Featured AI-Tupac Vocals

Drake almost found himself in legal trouble after he released a Kendrick Lamar diss track titled “Taylor Made Freestyle” with an AI-generated version of Tupac Shakur’s voice earlier this month.

On Thursday, the song, which was originally released on April 19, was scrubbed from Drake’s Instagram page and from his X account. An attorney with Tupac’s estate, Howard King, sent a cease-and-desist letter on Wednesday threatening legal action if the rapper, whose real name is Aubrey Drake Graham, did not take down the track from all public platforms, King said in a statement to Billboard.

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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.


For media inquiries, please contact:

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