ASU Law graduate uses tech background to fuel new career

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Matthew Lutz never intended to go to law school.  A brown-haired man in a brown suit poses outside. Matthew Lutz Download Full Image

He was content working in the technology consulting field as a project manager. It wasn’t until his wife, Caroline, started earning her juris doctor degree at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University that he thought about doing the same. 

“I had no previous exposure to the practice of law, but as she went through her JD program, I started to realize the wide variety of career paths available and the opportunities to use my technology background in a legal practice,” said Lutz, who is originally from Arlington, Texas. “Once that started to click, I knew ASU Law was the right choice for me.”

He earned a full tuition merit scholarship, was a Lisa Foundation Advanced Patent Scholar and won the Daniel Strouse Prize, all of which enabled him to pursue his new dream. During his time at ASU Law, Lutz participated in the Lisa Foundation Patent Clinic, the Arizona State Law Journal and the Center for Law, Science and Innovation.

After taking the bar in July, Lutz plans to practice patent litigation in the Phoenix office of Perkins Coie.

“ASU Law is a great school, and it keeps getting better every year,” he said. “Whether you hope to practice in Phoenix or elsewhere, ASU Law can get you where you want to go.”

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the law?

Answer: I never considered law as a career path until my wife went to law school. I was working in cybersecurity and technology consulting and had only envisioned myself going back to school for a master's of business administration. I originally moved to Phoenix in 2017 when my wife, Caroline, got admitted to ASU Law, and during her time there, I started thinking about law school for the first time. 

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU Law — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: It's a cliche, but law school really does change the way you think. My first year of law school taught me that reasonable minds can differ on so many issues, and there are valid arguments on both sides of most debates.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: For me, ASU Law was an easy choice. I knew that I wanted to practice law in an area that leveraged my technology background, and the Law, Science and Innovation Center at ASU Law offers so many opportunities to learn about the interaction between law and emerging technologies. The Intellectual Property program is also top-notch, with a huge course selection, amazing professors and incredible opportunities for practical experience and networking.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: More than any particular lesson, I really appreciated the example set by professors who taught courses as a way to give back. It is so inspiring to see people who have achieved so much professionally come back to the law school to teach courses for far less pay than they could make elsewhere, simply to pay it forward to law students just getting started in their careers.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A: Take care of yourself, physically and mentally! Law school is intense.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I don't think $40 million is sufficient to solve any major global problem, but I would put it towards alleviating food insecurity somewhere. It's hard to believe how much food we have, and how many people are nevertheless facing hunger or starvation.

Q: What does graduating from law school mean to you and your loved ones?

A: I feel so fortunate to have received the opportunity to go to law school; it's not something I ever envisioned for myself growing up.

Lindsay Walker

Communications Manager, Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law

ASU graduate aims to demystify AI through children's book

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

How do we understand the story of artificial intelligence? Student Kacy Hatfield Kacy Hatfield Download Full Image

Kacy Hatfield is a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who aims to make the story of AI accessible to all – and is doing so by writing a children’s book. Kacy is graduating this May with a degree in digital culture, and is an undergraduate researcher for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

After graduation, she will pursue a master's degree and has been invited to participate in the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs

She shared more about her college journey below. 

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study digital culture.

Answer: I actually came to ASU as a biochemistry major; I love chemistry and math, but the career path wasn't exactly what I wanted. I then explored career and creative job opportunities where I found digital culture and in just three days I was hooked and made the switch. And there is still so much of what I love in studying AI, and I get to integrate my love for chemistry and math into that. 

I actually hadn't even heard of machine learning until spring 2021, and after my professor introduced it to us, I asked her for book recommendations. From then on, I was obsessed with AI.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research? 

A: Well, I actually did my honors thesis shortly after I learned about AI and machine learning. I decided that I wanted to pursue it, even though I really didn’t know much about the subject, and I pitched it to several professors I wanted to work with, who all were very supportive. I defended my thesis almost exactly a year after I had first learned about machine learning, and I just had such an amazing time working on my thesis that I wanted to continue doing research. 

I then found the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, which had an undergraduate research opportunity on responsible AI. I met with Research Program Manager Erica O’Neil over Zoom, and I thought it would be the perfect continuation of my work. It’s amazing to keep doing research on this, not just to learn but to ultimately come away with more questions. 

Q: You're working on a really fascinating project, in which you’re developing a children’s book on AI. Can you share more on this project? 

A: The premise is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of an algorithm named Pip — like the command in Python Programming Language — and Pip has to classify seashells on the beach. How Pip classifies them starts out in very simple terms, and as waves wash up on the shore, more advanced terminology is revealed. There’s also a character named Epoch — another term in Python — as well as a character that represents the human in the loop. All of them are placed very strategically to represent what would take place if a machine learning algorithm were to be integrated in this area. 

Image of a book cover for Your Pal, PipThe goal is to help people feel less scared about machine learning. I often see AI described as a black box; something that that people can't see into, and can't understand. But I think the test of a good machine learning algorithm – and a good programmer — is to translate that black box into something that is easily understood.

Part of the reason I love machine learning is because even if I dedicate my entire life to studying AI, I will never have a fully comprehensive grasp of it, because it's just always expanding and advancing so fast. I think that's key in why people feel uncertainty about machine learning, especially when the Hollywood narrative of AI is the humanoid robot that is going to take over. The thing is, these technologies are amoral, not immoral. 

My goal as a researcher is to start mitigating skepticism around the subject of machine learning through this book. And this starts with younger people, but the book is also meant to be used by people of all ages. 

Q: How has your time in the responsible AI research group related back to your work? 

A: I love being in this research group. It's actually my second semester; last semester I did a project on the risks and mitigations of AI-powered autonomous spacecraft, which is another one of my interests. It’s so awesome to be part of a group of people that have such different backgrounds and different approaches to AI. There are so many interdisciplinary perspectives and topics brought up in discussion. 

I think that in terms of responsible AI – and a lot of people may disagree with me on this – it is integral for a programmer to also be able to see the ethical implications of whatever they're employing into the world. There’s often the argument that we should wait five years before evaluating those possible impacts; when I am working on programming, I'm immediately thinking about how it may affect the real world and be used. 

Machine learning is like a mirror - it's going to reflect whatever we give it, and humans are not perfect. This is why I think the conversations on ethics have to go hand in hand with the research itself, and it's really interesting to see how it comes about on all different fronts.

Q: What comes next for you in your career and future?

A: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? I always have a list of problems that I can research! This may be a nerdy confession, but I love doing research even in my free time. I hope to direct that energy into the pursuit of a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. I have also been invited to join the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs in summer 2023 as an undergraduate engineer, which is a very exciting opportunity. 

The amazing thing about this field is it's always changing, and in some regard, I will always feel like a student. And because the study of AI is so new, I feel like taking the ethical and programming approach at the same time would be a lot easier to integrate than something that's already established. I hope to keep these skills as best practices in the future. 

There is a lot of skepticism around AI and machine learning, and often I hear people say that it’s too complicated or complex. Everybody has the capability to understand AI, and it's not as scary as it seems. Even though it's been tremendously skewed for entertainment, which makes it easier to vilify, there are so many benefits to using machine learning, and we can employ it in the right ways to augment our human experience and not hinder it.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics