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.

Tue, Mar 05

More than Debate: Talking Ethics in Both Conference and Competition

Ethics Bowl is a Socratic discussion-based competition in which competitors discuss the problems and solutions to current moral dilemmas. These dilemmas include a variety of topics, from the seemingly innocuous issues like owning a lawn (they’re not great for the environment) to the biggest challenges like addressing systemic racism. Teams collaborate, rather than debate, on how to navigate these issues using moral theory and practical policies. Ethics Bowl captures the heart of ethical problem-solving: to listen with care and curiosity for what others have to say, to critically and respectfully consider opposing viewpoints, and to treat all stakeholders and members of the conversation with empathy.

The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) is a national organization dedicated to advancing scholarship, education, and research in practical and professional ethics. They are responsible for creating and managing the Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl (IEB) competition.

APPE also hosts the annual Practical and Professional Ethics Conference along with the National IEB competition. I was able to both attend the conference as an observing graduate student and the competition as a judge.

2024 APPE Intercollegiate Ethics Bowl® National Championship

The conference brought scholars from all over the country to discuss their publications and working ideas on a variety of applied ethics topics. I attended panels on the moral impermissibility of factory farming, how to use bureaucratic power to curb police violence, and qualitative studies on the efficacy of audits for technology companies. I found this last panel to be especially interesting. With the skills and knowledge I acquired from my Tech Ethics and Policy concentration, I offered points on how to consider other variables like the quality of audits, the organizations responsible for conducting these audits, and the types of technology companies that need to be audited. Because of the MA program, I helped advise the presenter on how to improve her study (solicited advice, of course!).

The competition brought undergraduate students from all over the country to discuss as variety of moral dilemmas. Topics included the ethics of lithium mining in Maine, the moral permissibility of allowing doctors to practice as ringside physicians in boxing competitions, and when, if ever, should generative AI be used. It was amazing to see how thoughtful and well-informed the next generation of ethicists were.

Attending the conference and judging the competition allowed me to give back to the community that has given me so much. I’m grateful to still be involved with APPE because they equipped me with the skills of thoughtful and respectful dialogue that guides me in my everyday thinking and career path. I hope to use these skills to help myself and others navigate the biggest moral challenges in the MA program and beyond.


Jenna Wong, Duke MA in Tech Ethics & Policy

Jenna WongJenna explores the nexus of technology and ethics by concentrating in Technology Ethics in Duke’s Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy, by pursuing research opportunities with Science & Society faculty, and engaging with technology companies in Durham.

DISCLAIMER: These reflections represent the views of the student and not necessarily the views of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society or the Bioethics & Science Policy Masters Program. Our program represents myriad views and ideologies and we welcome open discussion on potentially controversial subject matter as it relates to society.

Tue, Mar 05

Talking with the Experts: DC’s Academic Roundtable to Solve the Biggest Problems in AI

When it comes to figuring out how to respond to emerging technologies, Congress has often called upon the same handful of billionaires and companies to solicit their opinions. This conversation has lacked other key voices: the academics who have been studying these problems and proposing solutions for years. The AI in Society and for Democracy Roundtable changed that.

Congressman Ro KhannaI attended the AI in Society and for Democracy Roundtable in Washington, D.C. with Professor Nita Farahany as a representative member of the Science, Law and Policy (SLAP) Lab. AI academics like Fei Fei Li, Ayanna Howard, and Noah Feldman met with Congressman Ro Khanna to discuss how to both mitigate the risks and capture the benefits of AI at a national level. It was an opportunity for expert voices to be heard, included, and influential in the conversation of how to protect and promote civil rights in the digital age through thoughtful and well-informed law and policy.

The roundtable focused on three major issues: (1) how to ensure workers are protected and benefit economically in the age of AI; (2) how to evaluate the duty of care and safeguards for the public against deceptive and manipulative AI; and (3) how to prepare American society—especially children—for an AI-integrated world and the role of education in enabling digital citizenship and promoting mental health. Proposed ideas included having Congress incentivize AI that augments—rather than replaces—human beings and their values, establish a government agency for AI oversight, and draft legislation aimed at preventing the loss of trust in elections due to deepfakes. Through respectful dialogue, AI scholars and Congress worked together to explore concrete solutions based on academic theory.

It was impressive to see how the academics were able to succinctly convey years of research in just a 90-minute meeting, all while maintaining respect and civility when they disagreed on certain points (Congressman Khanna even commented how it was a model conversation for Congress). Congressman Khanna concluded the meeting with how he wanted academics to be a continued resource for Congress to tap into and help address the challenges of AI.

The DC Roundtable was a paradigm of how academic voices can be incorporated and directly affect the law and policy world. Research has the power to inform and help determine how our government responds to social injustices like those from emerging tech. This experience has inspired me to pursue a career where I can also contribute thoughtful research to be used for positive social impact with AI. Hopefully, we convinced Congress that the US needs to catch up with the rest of the world in adopting more rigorous and explicit AI policies that protect and promote our civil liberties.


Jenna Wong, Duke MA in Tech Ethics & Policy

Jenna WongJenna explores the nexus of technology and ethics by concentrating in Technology Ethics in Duke’s Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy, by pursuing research opportunities with Science & Society faculty, and engaging with technology companies in Durham.

DISCLAIMER: These reflections represent the views of the student and not necessarily the views of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society or the Bioethics & Science Policy Masters Program. Our program represents myriad views and ideologies and we welcome open discussion on potentially controversial subject matter as it relates to society.

Mon, Mar 04

AI on Trial: Bot-Crossed Lovers

What happens when an AI chatbot takes part in a crime?

This is the first episode of a Stay Tuned miniseries, “AI on Trial,” featuring Preet Bharara in conversation with Nita Farahany, professor of law and philosophy at Duke University.

Preet and Nita discuss the hypothetical case of a nurse who is caught stealing medications and redistributing them to people living in poverty. As it turns out, an artificial intelligence chatbot, who the nurse is in love with, aided her crimes and coerced her into carrying them out. How might the AI’s assistance impact the nurse’s criminal liability and a potential prosecution? And how do we even begin to think about the idea of holding the AI itself accountable for the harm it causes?

Tue, Feb 27

Anne Crabill, Science and the Public, Class of 2023

“I came into Duke with a strong interest in healthcare, biology, and the government and struggled to reconcile my seemingly disparate interests. The Science and the Public cluster helped me broaden my interests and celebrate the interdisciplinary nature of the relationship between science and society…

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Wed, Feb 21

It’s HIPAA, not HIPPA

People often have the misconception that HIPAA is a health privacy law that protects all health data and gives them a right not to disclose their sensitive information. The unfortunate truth is that the “Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act” is far from the privacy law most people believe it to be. HIPAA only applies to a select group of organizations like medical providers and insurers called “covered entities” and associated entities called “business associates.” In the past few years, there has been an explosion of digital health websites and mobile apps that collect, store, use, and sell health data. However, the majority of services don’t connect users with a medical provider or require health insurance and therefore, are not covered by the data protections and regulations imposed by HIPAA.

2024 Duke Data Privacy Panel Photo

To better understand the evolving environment of non-HIPAA-covered health data, I attended Duke’s Data Privacy Day—a two-panel conference at the Duke Law School on February 2nd. In the first panel, privacy expert Marc Groman and medical provider Dr. David Reitman discussed the data privacy concerns of mental health apps. David highlighted how health providers see mental health apps as an outside-the-box solution for the current shortage of mental health professionals, while Marc underscored how mental health apps turn patients into products by selling sensitive health information collected during services. By hearing from both a privacy and medical perspective, the discussion shed light on the tension between the duty of care and the right to privacy while providing a relevant example of a category of apps that collect health data, not subject to HIPAA regulation.

The second panel, composed of privacy experts with distinctive backgrounds, discussed potential solutions to the growing quantity of non-HIPAA-covered health data. The panel generated interdisciplinary conversations about solutions to protecting health data while maximizing its benefit to society. Each panelist brought a unique perspective to the table, attuned to the concerns, limitations, and arguments in their respective fields. Dr. Rachele Hendricks-Sturrup, who is a Duke Health Policy Researcher in Real-World Evidence, was particularly attuned to how non-health data, like location data or credit card data, can infer information about your health. Maneesha Mithal, lawyer and former leader of the FTC’s Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, expanded on the FTC’s evolving role in protecting health data.

2024 Duke Data Privacy Group Photo

Health data privacy is a complex problem that requires a diverse set of perspectives and expertise to solve. Duke’s Data Privacy Day is just one example of the co-curricular events sponsored by Science & Society that focus on creating an environment where interdisciplinary conversations are welcomed and thrive. As an MA in Bioethics and Science Policy student, I frequently engage in classroom dialogue with fellow students and professors. However, the hallmark of my education thus far is events like Data Privacy Day where I can interact with and learn from experts around the world, gaining insight into the most pertinent conversations in ethics and policy.



 

Liz Sparacino, Duke MA in Tech Ethics & Policy

Liz SparacinoLiz Sparacino enrolled in the Duke Master of Arts in Bioethics & Science Policy to better understand how to articulate and advocate for the bioethical issues that arise at intersection of science, technology, and society. Throughout her career, she hopes to address these concerns before new genetic technology is implemented and to continue to advocate for people with disabilities.

DISCLAIMER: These reflections represent the views of the student and not necessarily the views of the Duke Initiative for Science & Society or the Bioethics & Science Policy Masters Program. Our program represents myriad views and ideologies and we welcome open discussion on potentially controversial subject matter as it relates to society.