Exciting funded PhD opportunities

Do you want to contribute to the just transition to socially just, trustworthy, responsible, open, inclusive and sustainable AI? Come do a funded PhD with us at the Just AI Lab of the University of Stirling!

Thanks to this £3.6m investment, we can offer a number of 3-year full-time equivalent PhD studentships on a fully funded basis, to both UK and international applicants!

We welcome expressions of interest from all candidates who meet the University’s entry criteria for Postgraduate Research degrees. We especially welcome expressions of interest from people from groups that have been under-represented in the UK Post Graduate Research community in the past, including people from ethnic minorities, women, disabled people, and people from care-experienced or socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

The Just AI Lab

Funded PhD students will join the Just AI Lab, a collaborative, inter-disciplinary cluster of researchers from across the University of Stirling, Scotland (UK).

PhD students will be working on complementary doctoral projects about the just transition to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

AI – including autonomous systems, machine learning, and other data-driven smart systems – is increasingly taking on crucial roles in many contexts, including health and wellbeing, tourism and leisure, security, law, human resources and education. Often, the humans who interact with and use these systems have a limited understanding of how they work, and consequently how they arrive at the judgements and decisions they output, with important consequences for trust in outputs and understandings of uncertainty. 

Against this backdrop, the core purpose of the Just AI Lab is the just transition to socially just, trustworthy, responsible, open, inclusive and sustainable AI through impactful mission-oriented interdisciplinary research. For the transition to be just, we must understand, use, and engage critically with AI in all aspects of human endeavour. Through Just AI, we embrace the vision of the Scottish AI Strategy of a fairer, greener, more prosperous, and outward looking Scotland. Our key areas of interest are: Just Wellbeing, Just Work, Just Services, and Just Commerce and Just Governance.

Application domains

Proposals are expected to focus on the just transition to AI with regard to one of the following application domains.

Just Governance. When it comes to governing AI, Scotland’s AI Strategy refers to the OECD principles for the responsible stewardship of trustworthy AI, including the need to design AI in a way that respects human rights, democratic values, diversity, transparency, safety, and accountability. How can we adapt traditional product safety frameworks (e.g. CE certification) to AI systems to ensure data safety? The UK Government is departing from the GDPR, how can we make sure that the legal mechanisms around transparency and fairness in algorithmic decision-making are not watered down? The EU has proposed new AI-specific legislation; what lessons can be learned in the UK? How can law work with computer science on the development of AI tools for the functional analysis of law, especially in the context of alternativ dispute resolution? Can the human and societal risks of facial recognition in policing be minimised? How can we overcome privata data enclosures in order to re-use data for the common good?

Just Wellbeing. AI will be pivotal to Scotland’s ambition to ensure a high quality of life for the people of Scotland, with a focus on prevention and early intervention (Programme for Government). AI is increasingly used, and increasingly blurs the lines between leisure, games, sport, and health. E.g., commercially available smart speakers, used for leisure, also have applications in the care sector. What is the influence of these smart speakers on older people’s lives? What are the barriers? How do they influence quality of life? Are there concerns about privacy? How can duties of care be coded? How are assistive technologies used for healthy ageing, especially in relation to sport reminiscence and sporting heritage? AI is becoming precious to improve health outcomes by changing behaviour. Are there groups who would benefit most from using AI to manage health outcomes e.g., those in rural areas?

Just Work. While there are growing calls within Europe to address the risks and potential negative impacts AI systems may have on work, dominant narratives position AI as offering assumedly straightforward solutions to complex work issues. Under the Scottish Programme for Government, technological innovation is seen ‘as a key driver for improved productivity and work standards/conditions.’ Such narratives do not address how workers in AI-mediated work settings employ their professional expertise and capacities for agency and judgement (alongside automated and assisted decision-making systems) critical for the delivery of essential services in society. How are and can alternative AI-Work narratives be co-created and mobilized? Will the creative industries be disrupted by AI-generated art, music, literature, and film? Are we witnessing the full realisation of the Adorno/Horkheimer notion of work and leisure time coming to increasingly resemble one another?

Just Services. AI is increasingly used in the provision of essential services such as education and healthcare, by public and private actors as well as hybrid organisms (e.g. public-private partnerships). E.g., pursuant to the Scottish Programme for Government, we are moving towards digitally-enabled schools and campuses as well as other sites of lifelong learning and what kinds of critical AI-Data literacies are required to develop stronger public understandings of AI and how to facilitate discussion of challenges and opportunties? How can we ensure a just transition to AI in education in a market dominated by commercial platforms? Have schools and universities the resources and skills to assess the threat AI poses to both teachers and students? Key questions apply also to other sectors.  What public interest safeguards are needed in AI procurement by public bodies? What are the rule of law implication of the use of AI in the public sector settings and in public private partnership settings e.g. in the transport and law enforcement sectors?

Just Commerce. Business uses of AI abound, ranging from chatbots used in e-commerce to quantum AI in the FinTech sector. AI innovation is a primary area of economic growth in Scotland, where Government is committed to ‘(u)se our trade and investment plans to set the direction on new market opportunities, attracting the high quality investment and technologies needed.’ To ensure the just transition to AI in commerce, a number of questions remain unanswered. What is the environmental impact of AI adoption, especially by SMEs and microenterprises that do not have the resources to offset the relevant externalities? Can AI save the high-street or will it be its end? How can we ensure that companies use AI humanely? How do we prevent data-driven personalisation from becoming consumer manipulation or even discrimination?

People

The Just AI Lab is directed by Associate Professor Guido Noto La Diega (Law and Philosophy) with Co-Directors Associate Professor Greg Singh (Communications, Media & Culture), Dr Terrie Lynn Thompson (Education), Professor William Webster (Management, Work and Organisation), Professor Anna C. Whittaker (Sport), and Dr Sandy Brownlee (Computing Science & Mathematics).

Other potential supervisors associated to the Lab are: Professor Kevin Grant, Professor Iain MacRury, Dr Keiller Nogueira, Professor Hon-Lin Yu, Professor Richard Haynes, Dr Hannah Graham, Dr Mo Egan, Dr Lorna Gibb, Dr Tom Kane, Dr Jenni Connelly, Dr Naja Yusof, Dr Diana Miranda, Professor Mike Wheeler, Dr Carolyn Wilson-Nash, Dr Zoi Krokida, Dr Melissa Avdeef, Dr Fay Niker, Dr Wasim Ahmed, Dr Simona Hapca, Dr Michaela Hruskova, Professor Jayne Donaldson, Professor Ashley Shepherd, Dr Seda Erdem, Dr Ellie McDonald, Dr Victoria Esteves, Dr Sarah Thomson.

Example projects

The example projects below are intended to inspire thought and provide context, but you are expected to submit an original project proposal that aligns with the research cluster.

How can the regulation of AI and AI-generated decisions / outputs ensure the just transition to AI and its use to tackle societal challenges e.g. climate justice, social justice, etc.?

How to deal with uncertainty, trust, and ethical design principles for transparent automated decision-making within selected domains such as organisational behaviour, governance, administration?

How to develop and test AI tools to enhance healthy life choices for psychological and physical wellbeing?

Guidance and key dates

The Institute of Advanced Studies (IAS) will be holding two webinars to provide guidance and answer questions that prospective postgraduate researchers may have, these will take place on 28 February and 9 March. Register for a webinar.

Submit your expression of interest by 14th April. Select Novel methodologies to support future research and better informed policy and then ‘Just AI Lab’.

Once the deadline for expression of interest has passed, expressions of interest will be assessed by clusters and nominations for an award made to the award panel. It is expected that offers will be made by 1 June 2023.

By 15th June, following the offer of an award a formal application for a PhD programme should be made, the process for applying for a PhD programme at Stirling can be found here. In order to receive an award, you must evidence that you meet eligibility criteria and secure an unconditional offer in advance of the start date of the PhD programme, specifically, 1 October 2023.

Before applying, you are encouraged to reach out to a potential supervisor (one of the researchers listed under ‘People’ in the previous section.

Make sure to read the full guidance here.

Express your interest

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