2020 prompts

These were the 2020 prompts for the YIWC. You can check out the winning articles here.


The development of new medicinal drugs and treatment therapies is a long, tightly regulated, and expensive process. However, these processes are necessary in order to ensure that new treatments are safe, effective, and administered in the correct dosage. During times of emergency, the use of experimental drugs as viable treatment options may be considered. Yet, these treatments may not always be effective, and could potentially make the situation worse.

How should we use experimental therapies or procedures in times of emergency and crisis?

You may consider these guiding questions:

  • Is it unethical to use experimental therapies during times of emergency, such as the COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Should experimental drugs be used to treat advanced/incurable illnesses?
  • Who should have the last say in the use of experimental drugs: the patient or the FDA?
  • What are the effects of experimental drug use on the patient, society, and the economy?

Environmental Science

Climate change and pollution are increasingly alarming issues in today’s world. In order to save the Earth, scientists and politicians have proposed various changes to society, including massive shifts to “green” products in order to reduce our carbon footprint. Some of these proposals find that more drastic changes to the human way of life are necessary, such as coal bans or reductions in utility consumption. However, these policies can come with their own risks, potentially negatively impacting the economy or personal freedoms.

How should we implement environmental policies when they may negatively impact the economy or our personal freedoms?

You may consider these guiding questions:

  • What are the harmful impacts of environmental policies on the economy and our personal freedoms?
  • Would making changes to society be feasible, especially when considering the costs that might come with them?
  • Who should change be implemented by: the government or by the people?
  • Is there a limit to how restrictive environmental policies should be? If so, how do we define this limit?

Computer Science

We hear of how artificial intelligence (AI) may help us find cures to different cancers, prevent car accidents, and even explore the galaxy. What we don’t hear is how AI algorithms are already in use and show discriminatory biases, such as racial biases in self-driving cars when detecting pedestrians or in AI algorithms when determining whether prisoners are given bond or probation. The crux of such discrimination is in the data being used to train the algorithms, where the data is not representative of society.

How should we automate decisions using algorithms when the data they use may be faulty? 

You may consider these guiding questions:

  • Given the risk for biases in data, what should be the ethical standard for using AI on a particular application?
  • If such a threshold were to exist, how can we design a framework to establish this for each given subject area?
  • Should we use an ethical threshold, or should we let the machines make mistakes and learn for themselves over time?
  • Is the risk worth the benefit? What are the benefits of automating decisions with AI?


In the United States, many citizens are fortunate to have access to advanced technology, be it kitchen appliances, personal computers, or medical technologies. To power these innovations, raw materials such as cobalt, lithium, and nickel must be extracted from developing countries. However, these nations often do not have access to the technology that they help produce and dispose. In fact, they are suffering in order to make these technologies, as there are numerous environmental, health, and ethical ramifications to the exploitation of these natural resources.

How should we innovate new technologies when their mass production could harm society?

You may consider these guiding questions:

  • What are the environmental, health, and ethical ramifications that result from the exploitation of natural resources?
  • What are some ways engineers can work around the demand for these materials in order to minimize potential harm and maximize technological advancement?
  • Is technological advancement necessary, even if it’s at the detriment of other countries?