Bass Connections

Bass Connections at Bass-KIEDuke supports vertically integrated teams of students and faculty across campus to engage in problem-based research built around five core themes: Brain & Society; Information, Society & Culture; Global Health; Education & Human Development; and Energy.

For the 2017-2018 academic year, the partnership with KIE and Bass Connections is supporting several new projects. These projects align with KIE’s program areas and will feature a public symposium on the research findings. Students interested in these projects can visit the Bass Connections page.

Previous projects include research within Kenan’s programmatic areas of Religions and Public Life, Human Rights, Rethinking Regulation and Moral Attitudes and Decision-Making. Information on these projects can be found here.

Projects for 2017-2018 include:

In current culture, people usually discuss controversial moral and political issues only among like-minded people who do not press challenging questions. In fact, calling on people to justify their moral, political and religious views, especially in contexts where others might disagree, is widely regarded as impolite, even insulting. Moreover, asking people about their views can spur rationalizations and polarization that cause disagreements to become even more entrenched.

The team’s goal is to test the hypothesis that, if students are trained in a culture that encourages people to regularly ask themselves and others the right questions, then they will become better at understanding their own or others’ points of view and, hence, at navigating an ideologically diverse world.

Bass Connections theme: Education & Human Development
KIE program connection: Moral Attitudes & Decision-Making

Faculty team members:
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Philosophy, Kenan Institute of Ethics)
Jordan Carpenter (Philosophy, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Jesse Summers (Social Science Research Institute, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
David Malone (Program in Education)
Undergraduate and Graduate Student team members:
Aaron Ancell (Graduate, Philosophy)


Autonomous agents are beginning to interact with humans on a regular basis. Self-driving cars are appearing on local streets where many people drive, and various types of drones are flying through skies over populated areas. Autonomous agents have promise to provide many services that will help society, but they also raise significant concerns.

The goal of this Bass Connections project is to combine computational methods, philosophy, game theory and psychology to develop moral artificial intelligence (“moral AI”) to direct autonomous agents that is both robust and ethical.

Bass Connections theme: Brain & Society, Information, Society & Culture
KIE program connection: Moral Attitudes & Decision-Making

Faculty team members:
Walter Sinnott-Armstrong (Philosophy, Kenan Institute of Ethics)
Jana Schaich Borg (Social Science Research Institute, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Vincent Conitzer (Computer Science, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Undergraduate and Graduate Student team members:
Cassandra Carley (Graduate, Computer Science)
Lok Chan, (Graduate, Philosophy)
Sarah Cogan (Undergraduate)
Scott Emmons (Undergraduate)
Anika Mukherji (Undergraduate)
Nikhil Ravi (Undergraduate)
Lidea Shahidi (Graduate, Electrical/Computer Engineering)
Weiyao Wang (Undergraduate)

Emerging technologies such as autonomous vehicles and three dimensional printing offer extraordinary promise to revolutionize the transportation sector. Autonomous vehicles may usher in an era where people no longer own their own cars, but can call for a car whenever needed. Self-driving cars may reduce accidents, energy use and transportation time, and may increase personal productivity. 3D printing may enable a shift away from an economy where goods are produced at a facility and transported by ship, rail or truck to consumers or assemblers, to one where consumer goods and parts can be manufactured on demand when and where needed.

This Bass Connections project’s goal is to develop an approach to regulatory design and institutional updating, including model regulatory language, for both autonomous cars and 3D printing. The approach will be based on expertise on these technologies and analysis of how different regulatory options affect deployment of the technologies and learning about the emerging risks, benefits, costs and distribution of these technologies. The objective of this analysis is to inform decisions about regulating these emerging technologies, and to develop better approaches for adaptive regulation of emerging technologies in general.

Bass Connections theme: Information, Society & Culture
KIE program connection: Rethinking Regulation

Faculty team members:
Jonathan Wiener (Law School, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Lori Bennear (Nicholas School – Environmental Sciences & Policy, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Michael Clamman (Pratt School of Engineering)
Nita Farahany (Law School, Philosophy, Duke Initiative for Science & Society)
Undergraduate and Graduate Student team members:
Sarah Sibley (Undergraduate)

Throughout human history, various people found themselves trapped in life-and-death situations due to violent conflicts. Who survives and who dies? This question is still prominent today with hundreds of millions of people across the globe living in extreme hardship and in areas ravaged by conflicts. Where institutions are broken and resources scarce, social scientists have found that trust, cooperation and social connections are crucial to survival.

The project’s objective is to build a research group at Duke that investigates how social networks affect behavior in the context of Middle East conflicts and to bridge the artificial epistemological divide that separates research involving the Middle East from the social sciences.

Community partners include the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Muslim Inclusion Committee and Search for Common Grounds.

Bass Connections theme: Energy
KIE program connection: Human Rights

Faculty team members:
Barak Richman (Law School, Fuqua School of Business, Kenan Institute for Ethics)
Abdeslam Maghraoui (Political Science)
David Schanzer (Sanford School of Public Policy)
David Siegel (Political Science)
Giovanni Zanalda (Social Science Research Institute, Economics, History)
Undergraduate and Graduate Student team members:
Margaret Foster (Graduate, Political Science)
Samuel Kigar (Graduate, Religion)
Hao (Howard) Liu (Graduate, Political Science)
Jordan Roberts (Graduate, Political Science)
Juan Tellez (Graduate, Political Science)
Kaitlyn Webster (Graduate, Political Science)

Hui Ling (Joyce) Er (Undergraduate)
Sara Evall (Undergraduate)
Usha Kadiyala (Undergraduate)
Daniel Kastenbaum (Undergraduate)
Yijun Li (Undergraduate)
Ian Rofe (Undergraduate)
Roey Vardi (Undergraduate)

In addition to the above projects, Kenan supports an on-going effort:

The United States resettles between 50-80,000 refugees annually. And more than half of these are women and children. North Carolina ranks tenth in the country in terms of refugee resettlement. In the past three years 2,500 refugees, predominantly from Bhutan, Burma and Iraq but also from Sudan, Somalia and elsewhere were resettled in the Triangle area. Resettlement poses numerous challenges for refugees whose history of violent displacement together with cultural and linguistic barriers often makes access to resources, jobs, education and social support difficult. Refugees also face substantial barriers to full participation in the life of their communities and initial evidence is that they have significantly lower lifetime levels of civic engagement. This project explores mechanisms for enhancing refugee civic participation with a focus on high school youth in Durham, North Carolina. This project has two allied dimensions. First, we will create a citizenship lab at Duke whose core objective will be to conduct a community based research project in Durham. Second, Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates will explore the empirical relationship between social science research engagement and citizenship.

Duke faculty, graduate students and undergraduates will explore the empirical relationship between social science research engagement and citizenship. Through program assessment (pre-test/post-test of participants based on a mix of existing survey instruments) we will attempt to measure the effectiveness of teaching citizenship via this pragmatic social science research method. Here faculty, graduate students and undergraduates revisit, update, and examine the impact of this program on migrant youth civic participation.

Bass Connections theme: Education & Human Development
KIE program connection: Human Rights

Faculty team members:
Abdul Sattar-Jawad (Islamic Studies & AMES)
Suzanne Shanahan (Sociology & Kenan Institute)
William Tobin (UNC Civil Rights)
Undergraduate and Graduate Student team members:
Maha Ahmed (Undergraduate)
Aidan Coleman (Undergraduate)
Catherine Farmer (Undergraduate)
Reed McLaurin (Undergraduate)
Alex Oprea (Graduate, Political Science)
Snehan Sharma (Undergraduate)
Maura Smyles (Undergraduate)
Elizabeth Tsui (Undergraduate)
Xu Wang (Graduate, Public Policy)
Elizabeth Wilkinson (Undergraduate)