De Lange Conference to focus on technology, culture and society

A robot hand

Technology’s two-edged sword will be the subject of the two-day De Lange Conference Dec. 5-6 at Rice University’s BioScience Research Collaborative and the Ion. Themed “Technology, Culture and Society,” the conference will address the advances and consequent challenges of information technology, health and medicine, and climate change from the three perspectives.

Endowed by Hank and Demaris Hudspeth to provide a forum for issues of great concern to society, the De Lange Conference is an initiative of Rice’s Scientia Institute, a faculty-led consortium that promotes multidisciplinary engagement to benefit the university and the Houston community at large. The event is chaired this year by Moshe Vardi, University Professor and Karen Ostrum George Distinguished Service Professor in Computational Engineering.

“This year’s topic is particularly timely: More and more, technology is at the center of the enormous trade-offs facing humankind and our planet,” said Anthony Brandt, professor of composition and theory at Rice’s Shepherd School of Music and director of the Scientia Institute. “All of us in Scientia are looking forward to the thought-provoking talks and fascinating discussions that follow.”

Monday morning will focus on information technology. The session will review recent progress in artificial intelligence (AI) and its prospects for the next decade. It will also address how societal biases are reinforced and even increased by training AI using historical data that is often discriminatory. The session will also explore how AI erodes privacy by using face recognition and cameras to eliminate anonymity.

The afternoon will examine technology’s impact in health and medicine, specifically how the genomic revolution is changing the approach to discovery, delivery and policy. Cell lines, DNA and other private, personally identifiable information have long been commercially traded for research and profit. The presentations will draw on this history to shed light on the challenges of how to incorporate genome-based medicine and the explosion in big data companies’ involvement in health care.

Tuesday morning’s session will dive into technology’s central role in both causing and solving climate change. The speakers will explore innovations that have begun to enable a cleaner and more sustainable economy, and the societal and cultural impact of climate change.

To cap off the conference, presenters will take an overarching view of how to apply the discussions toward creating a more just society, accountable to all.

For a complete schedule of events and speakers, visit