2024 Lincoln Essay Competition


Lincoln and the world of AI

"…in the world's history, certain inventions and discoveries occurred, of peculiar value, on account of their great efficiency in facilitating all other inventions and discoveries.”

—Abraham Lincoln, in his 1858 Discoveries and Inventions lecture

President Lincoln had a life-long interest in technology, believing in the power of human innovation to improve lives. In his Discoveries and Inventions lecture, he reflects on some of the essential human innovations that have shaped the course of history (speech, writing, the printing press, steam-power, etc.). Today, the emergence of artificial intelligence (AI) technology has the potential to make a similarly profound impact on society. 

With this in mind, please answer the following prompt in 500 words or fewer: 

Select a subject or field that interests you and explore the potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) within that area. Provide a specific example of how AI could positively influence this field, as well as one example of how it could be detrimental. Based on the examples you've provided, explain whether you believe the benefits outweigh the risks to your chosen area of interest.

WINNERS of the Hildene Lincoln Essay Competition, 2024
Hildene received 211 submissions from around the state to this year’s 8th Grade Lincoln Essay Competition. A first, second, and third-place winner was chosen from each of four regions and three honorable mentions were selected from the combined pool of finalistsstatewide. If you are one of the applicants, whether your essay garnered an award or not, you are to be congratulated for engaging in the process. It takes perseverance and many drafts to craft a compelling answer to the LEC prompts—and in 500 words or fewer! May your efforts alone encourage you to continue writing. The world needs people who can successfully articulate complex matters, adding a human touch to analysis and creative expression. We will be sending a letter to every student who participated, along with some guest passes to Hildene. Please come visit.
The context for this year’s prompt was as follows: President Lincoln had a life-long interest in technology, believing in the power of human innovation to improve lives. In his Discoveries and Inventions lecture, he reflected on some of the essential human innovations that have shaped the course of history (speech, writing, the printing press, steam-power, etc.). Today, the emergence of artificial intelligence technology (AI) has the potential to make a similarly profound impact on society.
With this in mind, students responded to the following:
Select a subject or field that interests you and explore the potential impacts of artificial intelligence (AI) within that area. Provide a specific example of how AI could positively influence this field, as well as one example of how it could be detrimental. Based on the examples you've provided, explain whether you believe the benefits outweigh the risks to your chosen area of interest.

Congratulations to the winners!


2024 LEC winners

Region One:  Grand Isle, Franklin, Orleans, Essex, Lamoille, Caledonia, Washington Counties
First Place, $500
Ursa Goldenrose
Ursa wrote about the impacts of AI on the field of fan fiction, finding that the risks to this community of writers and readers outweigh the benefits.
Hazen Union School, Hardwick; Teacher:  Joseph Murphy
Second Place, $400
Helena DeVore
Helena outlined both the positive and negative impacts that AI poses for the field of journalism, finding that the risks substantially outweigh the benefits.
Peoples Academy Middle Level, Morrisville; Teacher:  Ryan VanDyk
Third Place, $300
Ava Stratman
Ava believes society will adapt and learn to use AI in education responsibly as a tool in education so that the benefits will outweigh the risks.
Peoples Academy Middle Level, Morrisville; Teacher:  Ryan VanDyk
Region Two:  Chittenden County
First Place, $500
Maelyn Slavik
Maelyn wrote about the pros and cons of AI for artists and writers, finding that the risk of losing the irreplaceable element of human creativity far outweigh the benefits.
Edmunds Middle School, Burlington; Teacher: Stephen Boyle
Second Place, $400
Hanna Schold
Hanna wrote about the loss of connection between musicians and fans, finding that the risks of AI in the music industry outweigh the benefits.
Mater Christi School, Burlington; Teacher: Katherine Fischer
Third Place, $300
Britta Fitzgerald
Britta found that the benefits of AI in eldercare (specifically, the use of companion robots) outweigh the risks, given the shortage of healthcare workers.
Edmunds Middle School, Burlington; Teacher: Jeremy DeMink
Region Three:  Addison, Rutland, Bennington Counties
First Place, $500
Levi Stoll
Levi sees AI as a major boon to diagnostic radiology, provided human radiologists aided by it are cognizant of its inherent biases.  
Maple Street School, Manchester Center; Teacher: Conor Welch
Second Place, $400
Timmy Fitzsimmons
Timmy wrote about the risks AI poses to democracy that far outweigh its benefits, writing specifically about the dangers it poses during an election year.
Maple Street School, Manchester Center; Teacher: Conor Welch
Third Place, $300
Madison King
Madison found that—as long as the essential human touch in healthcare is preserved—the benefits of AI to the field hold immense promise.
Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School, Bristol; Teacher: Emily Ringquist
Region Four:  Orange, Windsor, Windham Counties
First Place, $500
Declan Read-Murrell
Declan wrote that the benefits of AI in law enforcement at this time are not worth the risks that such technology poses, given its inherent biases.
Upper Valley Waldorf School, Quechee; Teacher: Devon Abbey
Second Place, $400
Ezra Keim
Ezra writes that while AI might be a wonderful tool for some forms of writing (corporate, advertising), the risks it poses to authors and journalists far outweigh the benefits.
Hilltop Montessori School, Brattleboro; Teacher: Ani Schaeffer
Third Place, $300
Ashton Perkins
Ashton found that, despite some of the benefits of AI in agriculture, the risks (like job loss) far outweigh the advantages.
Upper Valley Waldorf School, Quechee; Teacher: Devon Abbey
3 Honorable Mentions, $200 each
Tegan Bushey
Tegan wrote that even though AI in the field of architecture has the potential to threaten jobsand curtail human creativity, the benefits (lowering costs for housing, detecting structural hazards, etc.) outweigh the concerns it poses.
Edmunds Middle School, Burlington; Teacher: Terrence Richards
Isa Cramer
Isa wrote about the many ways in which AI could take a tremendous toll on the entertainment industry, despite some of its benefits.
Edmunds Middle School, Burlington; Teacher: Kathy Gallagher
Elle Lipkin
Elle wrote that if AI is used in partnership with trained professionals in animal healthcare, the benefits to the field will far outweigh the risks.
Lake Champlain Waldorf School, Shelburne; Teacher: Abigail Diehl-Noble

The Winning Essays 

Ursa Goldenrose
Region 1, Hazen Union School

The Impacts of Artificial Intelligence on Fan Fiction Writers

The seemingly sudden arrival of Artificial Intelligence has brought both positive and negative repercussions to writers. Amongst the many writers impacted, fan fiction writers have fully felt the burdens that AI tools can impose. Fan fiction writing is writing that explores already existing work, creating new adventures using other writers’ characters and worlds. Although AI tools can be advantageous for writing fan fiction, their use can violate the rules that fan fiction communities uphold.

AI writing tools can be incredible time savers for writers, making it faster and easier to generate content. By helping to fix mechanical errors in the writing, the writer can spend more time crafting the narrative, and enhancing the work. In addition to spelling and grammar corrections, AI tools can efficiently gather information from a variety of sources to help make the material compelling and diverse.1 Despite its uses, where it gets its information, and how it’s profiting off of it, is not always clear.

Fan fiction writing communities have regulations in place to ensure that everyone is abiding by copyright laws. At the beginning of the story, the writer must state that they do not own the world or characters being explored, and they are only allowed to share it free of charge.2 So when an AI company scrapes their work and eventually makes money off of it, it is a violation of these rules.

Kit Loffstadt is a fan fiction writer who recently found out that her work was being copied and used by AI machines without her knowledge or consent. This dismayed her and caused her to stop publishing her work. As an act of rebellion, a group of fan fiction writers, including herself, published large amounts of irrelevant content, in hopes of confusing the data collectors. “We each have to do whatever we can to show them the output of our creativity is not for machines to harvest as they like,”3 she says. Kit Loffstadt is just one example of the many writers who have been affected in similar ways.

For many, AI technologies are stealing more than just the words on a page. New York Times reporter Sheera Frenkel says that fan fiction writers are “affronted at the idea that these machines have scraped what is, for them, very much a labor of love.”4 Fan fiction writers put a lot of energy and creativity into their work, and they want it to be shown the respect it deserves.

AI has shown us how it can be useful, but the minor conveniences it provides do not outweigh the harm it can inflict on fan fiction writers. As new technologies rapidly develop, writers struggle to adapt and find ways to protect their work. Fan fiction writing may not be the most profitable work, but it provides important outlets for creativity. When AI companies exploit it, it can cause considerable harm to the writers, and their communities.

Maelyn Slavik
Region 2, Edmunds Middle School

AI Creates, But is it Creative?   

“Art is the creative expression of ideas, emotions, and stories through various mediums such as painting, writing, music, and more.”1  As you read this artificial intelligence (AI) generated definition of art, you realize that AI is saying that AI itself cannot be the creator of a true piece of art or artistic writing.  In creative writing, people discover themselves through the words they type and the characters they bring to life.  They mix their emotions and experiences into masterpieces, then let them become one with a page, inked stories filling the white.  

AI can be a fantastic way to turn those story ideas into reality and get something in that blank space.  It is quick, it provides as many options as requested, and it will succeed no matter how much skill or experience it is working with.  Many people will say that this process is still true creative writing because they came up with the idea.  Some even claim that AI-written novels are completely created by the person who feeds the prompts into the machine.  A book called Death of an Author was written almost fully by artificial intelligence, yet the author, Stephen Marche, says that it belongs to him 100%.  He says that the way he distributed the situations to the generator, pieced the scenes together, and ordered them, makes him the true creator.  He also says, “But on the other hand, I didn’t create the words.”2  In a way, this does not matter- the story belongs to him, and AI was able to turn his story into a novel.  The thought is what counts, right?  

As a writer, I pour my ideas, emotions, and passion into the stories I compose; it would be a shame to see those human qualities pitifully attempted to be replicated by AI.  While AI could handle using ideas, it does not have a human grasp on humor, guilt, joy, or any emotion- how could it?  AI is an army of machines that lack the main element that makes creative writing so pure: passion.  Art and writing are humanity in its finest, and AI sucks the humanity right out, leaving a hollow structure disguised as something that may resemble meaning.  However, there isn’t really value within the lines. There is little self-discovery through the words, little improvement the author got to see themself make.  Using AI to write, or even assist writing, novels or stories takes away from the adventure of writing a book.    

While I wrote my first book, I learned so much about myself and got to experience the joy of watching myself improve in amounts I did not even think were possible.  As a creative writer, I do not think AI can or should be the writer of novels.  AI’s inhuman qualities and abilities simply do not match up to the experimental, delicate works of a real human writer.  Creative writing is about people, and AI is not a person. 

Levi Stoll
Region 3, Maple Street School

Seeing the Big Picture: How Artificial Intelligence Transforms Diagnostic Radiology  

In the past several years, the growth and accuracy of artificial intelligence (AI) has grown exponentially, with public AIs such as ChatGPT becoming popular. Extremely specialized AIs have also grown in accuracy and capability, especially those involved with statistics and probability. For instance, AI can now be implemented in every facet of medical imaging using a variety of models.1 Artificial intelligence is a powerful tool in radiology that can greatly improve patient health when used correctly. In the realm of diagnostic imagery or interventional radiology, AI could be applied to multiple clinical use cases, whether providing additional support in a quiet rural area or triaging patients in a busy emergency department.2 However, without a well reviewed database and unbiased output, these AIs might also be inaccurate and potentially harmful.  

An average radiologist faces an overwhelming volume of medical images daily.3 There are inevitable oversights in this too-often rushed work, so AI either assisting with the workload or helping radiologists improve their accuracy will improve both the precision of diagnoses and the overall efficiency of the radiology department. Image reconstruction AIs are able to increase the clarity of a photo, allowing radiologists to notice small details using less injected contrast (which can be harmful to patients). One of AI’s greatest strengths in radiology is that it excels at detecting subtle abnormalities that can be missed entirely by human eyes. It can analyze extensive datasets in seconds, finding miniscule details in X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans. For instance, AI algorithms can spot early signs of cancer, fractures, or other anomalies with greater accuracy than radiologists.4 Also, unlike humans, AI will consistently run smoothly and will not tire if it is running on a system with enough processing power for its workload.  

While AI holds immense promise, it is not immune to pitfalls. One such issue of using AI in radiology is a bias in the data it has been fed. AI models learn from historical data and if that data presents unequal treatment of different groups, the model inherits those biases. Radiology datasets often lack diversity due to the great majority of past studies being conducted on white men. As a result, AI algorithms may give skewed results when analyzing images from underrepresented populations. 

Overall, I believe that AI will be a major boon to radiologists if there are appropriate trials and protocols developed. One might think AI could replace radiologists altogether but for artificial intelligence to attain the greatest accuracy, it must work alongside radiologists so results can be verified by both an AI model and a human.6 AI holds great promise on many fronts, perhaps none as much as the medical field. We need to be cognizant of AI’s flaws and give it human oversight, as an unregulated AI perpetuating biases and continuing errors would harm patients. Its tremendous potential and ability to impact radiology is exactly why we need to exercise great caution when implementing artificial intelligence.

Declan Read-Murrell 
Region 4, Upper Valley Waldorf School

Do The Risks Outweigh the Benefits of AI In Law Enforcement?   

Law enforcement officers are tasked with keeping order and peace amongst the populace.Law enforcement agencies are becoming more reliant on artificial intelligence (A.I.), like many organizations now are, but is this technology fair and just? A.I. is an emerging technology which is potentially beneficial in some lines of work and detrimental in others. It is important to address the benefits and risks to further our understanding of this dawning age.  

To begin with, A.I. has proven to be useful in facial recognition, swiftly gathering information in a matter of minutes that would normally take a human potentially weeks. According to the National Institute of Justice, “Video and image analysis is also prone to human errors due to sheer volume of information,” 1 Therefore, this technology will free up more resources and produce fewer errors. In addition to facial recognition, A.I. also assists police with “Preventative Policing”2  which is a fairly new system that assists police in identifying future criminals before they can commit crimes.  

Unfortunately, The American Bar Association has found that these A.I. systems are surprisingly heavily biased against people of color. An example that clearly shows the racial bias in A.I. was when the judicial artificial intelligence system COMPAS rated a white male charged with armed robbery and attempted armed robbery at a risk level of 3/10, while a black female who stole a bike and a scooter (a common petty theft) was rated an 8/10. 2 This example clearly demonstrates the bias of current A.I.   

A.I. can also select certain neighborhoods as high or low risk to help guide where police assistance is needed the most. Unfortunately, this system is also biased, flagging black communities overwhelmingly more than white communities. JSTOR points this out as well stating, “Black people are more likely to be reported for a crime-whether the reporter is black or white. This leads black neighborhoods being marked as ‘high risk’ at a disproportionate rate.” 3 This analysis is further proof that racial bias is common in most forms of law and judicial A.I.   

With the information gathered from both the benefits and the risks, the risks clearly outweigh the time-saving rewards, making the A.I. quite unreliable. In order to preserve people’s rights, we must prioritize accuracy over speed, especially in this particular field. Until better, more just A.I. is released, it is unsafe to use the current models. A.I. is still new and growing, and there are clearly still some rough areas that must be smoothed out. Therefore, we should continue look at ways to improve A.I. to preserve the safety of the people, and the fairness of the judicial system. 

2024 Educator Introduction Letter        
2024 Student Application        

LEC Background: 

For the past seventeen years, Hildene has administered the Lincoln Essay Competition informed by our mission: Values into Action. Using Abraham Lincoln’s legacy as touchstone, Hildene seeks to inspire young people to tackle important issues, underscoring the responsibility each of us has to help make our world a better place. The competition is open to all eighth graders in the state of Vermont, whether they enter as part of a class assignment or on their own. Essays are judged on the student’s understanding of the subject, as well as on their ability to convey that understanding through good writing.

The inspiration and prompt change yearly and are published in late November/early December, along with instructions for applying, rules, guidelines, tips and a sample assessment rubric. The Lincoln Essay Competition supports 8th Grade Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts Literacy in Writing, as well as the C3 Framework for Social Studies.

The competition is judged in four regions. Home-schooled students are encouraged to enter and will be judged as a member of the region in which they reside. Judges come from a variety of backgrounds, ethnicities, geographical locations, vocations, religions, genders, etc., and include a mix of new and repeat judges every year.  The judges never see anything that identifies the student, their address or the school they attend.

Winners receive certificates, and cash prizes. Each region has a first, second, and third place winner. Honorable Mentions are by discretion. We emphasize to all students and their educators that the most important aspect of the competition is the process of examining a tough issue and endeavoring to articulate a well thought-out and compelling response to it. We commend all participants who show their best effort in offering genuine responses under the very particular expectations and standards of Hildene’s 8th Grade Lincoln Essay Competition.

2023 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2023 Lincoln Essay Competition First Place Essays 

2022 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2022 Lincoln Essay Competition First Place Essays

2021 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2021 Lincoln Essay Competition First Place Essays

2020 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners

2020 Lincoln Essay Competition First Place Essays

2019 Lincoln Essay Competition Winners