Published: Feb. 28, 2019

Students from across campus grappled with questions surrounding the use of data collected by artificial intelligence (AI) at the third annual Ethics Tech Competition on February 9, hosted by the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at Colorado Law and Silicon Flatirons.

This year’s competition case problem, designed to simulate real-world ethical problems faced by a young technology company, asked students to address the legal, ethical, technical, and business dimensions of a nuanced scenario concerning a startup’s leadership team and a decision on defining its ethical obligations related to a product.

Thirty-six students representing law, business, information science, computer science, and engineering at CU Boulder worked in teams to propose an ethical values position for a startup company specializing in AI—specifically, data analytics applied to facial recognition and facial expression recognition technologies. Modeled on real-world technology applications and their associated ethical challenges (such as the issues arising for Google’s Project Maven and Palantir Technologies), the case problem asked students to evaluate where on the spectrum of possible ethical positions their company should fall. Students took on the role of a team preparing for a pitch to investors of the project, and had to balance technological feasibility, profitability, and legality in making their recommendations.

“The Interdisciplinary Ethics Tech Competition is one of the most unique, innovative, and beneficial events we are able to offer to Colorado Law students, thanks to Colorado Law’s Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative grant,” said Melanie Kay, director of the Daniels Fund Ethics Initiative at Colorado Law. “Rarely do law students have the opportunity to build partnerships with students from other disciplines across campus, and in this competition, they are able to develop those relationships while simultaneously working on a challenging, highly relevant ethics problem, practicing public speaking and presentation skills, and networking with professionals in the field. Through the experience they gain problem-solving and professionalism skills while having a lot of fun in the process.”

This year’s judges included a diverse mix of technology and intellectual property lawyers and senior leaders, in-house counsel, entrepreneurs, law and information science professors, and private investors. The event also serves as a networking opportunity, as student participants are invited to lunch with the judges following the finals round to make connections.

Teams pitched their proposals during three preliminary rounds, followed by a finals round in which the five top-scoring teams made their pitch to the full panel of judges. The winning teams were:

First Place: Law students Katja Edelman ('21), Emily Gibson ('21), and Ty Trejo ('21); and Morgan Scheuerman (information science), who will share a $10,000 scholarship.

First Place Team

Second Place: Law students Ryan Cooney ('21) and Chris McGillen ('21); Christine Chang (computer science); and Kimberly Cowan (business), who will share a $4,000 scholarship.

Second Place Team

Third Place: Law students Wilson Scarbeary ('21) and Daniel Sequeira ('21); and Brandon Moynihan (business), who each received a $100 cash prize.

Third Place Team


“Working with other graduate students has helped me feel connected to the broader university community,” said Cooney, whose team took second place. “Moreover I really appreciated the diverse perspectives they brought to the competition. They pushed my preconceptions about the ethical application of emerging technology and challenged me to be a better critical thinker. It was intimidating to present to the top experts in the field, but the judges were incredibly gracious and committed to helping us refine both our notions of the problem and our presentation skills. Regardless of your academic interests you will take something away from this competition. I highly recommend everyone participate.”

“The competition was a wonderful microcosm of what we are likely to experience as future lawyers in the marketplace,” said Trejo, a member of the first-place winning team. “It expanded my view and helped develop marketable skills like research, problem-solving, and persuasive presentation. Additionally, it provided prime networking with its unique opportunity to present in front of so many Colorado lawyers from different sectors of the law. By the time the lunch comes around, all of these judges know you and have seen you in action. This gives you something natural to talk about and makes you stand out. Plus, it's a win-win topic in an interview. I've already had the chance to talk positively about my experience in subsequent interviews following the competition.” 

“Working with law students really opened my mind to different disciplinary perspectives and approaches to the problem. And the competition itself was really great for building confidence in public speaking. I will definitely be recommending participation to my information science colleagues,” said Morgan Scheuerman.

“I was hesitant to participate in the competition because of the time commitment that I anticipated, however I am so glad that I chose to do so. While it was indeed a lot of work, it was also great to meet other graduate students in different programs, research a salient issue in technology and ethics, and present to professionals in relevant fields. Thanks for the opportunity—and the scholarship!” said computer science student Christine Chang.