Collective Intelligence Through On-Line Discussion

Royal Holloway, University of London - Department of Computer Science

Applications are invited for a three-year PhD studentship, funded by the Leverhulme Trust, Royal Holloway, in Egham, Surrey.

The project is to develop an improved on-line discussion environment that would enable better and more productive discussion than is currently possible, using some techniques of machine learning to present large discussions in an informative way.

This project will suit a strong and creative programmer, who is interested in on-line communities, user-interface design, and machine learning.

You will be based in the Department of Computer Science, and you will also be part of the Leverhulme Magna Carta Doctoral Centre here, where 30 PhD students are doing many types of interdisciplinary research on the theme of Freedom and the Rights of the Individual in the Digital Age

The start date is September 2017, or January 2018 at the latest.

The Project: enabling better discussion on online media

People like writing comments below the articles or blog posts that they read: indeed, much public discussion takes place in these reader comment boards. These discussions consist of unstructured lists of short comments and replies, displayed in order of time or voted popularity. Some systems such as Reddit allow tree-structured conversations, with limited re-ordering by voting.

Some of these comments are carefully written and well argued, and bring in different points of view and raise the level of debate. But these gems tend to be lost amid a long, unstructured, un-indexed, repetitive list of comments. Indeed, it is remarkable that so many people do take the trouble to write well when their comments are so inadequately indexed and displayed. How can comment boards be improved to enable better and more structured discussion?

The aim of the project is to design better comment systems that allow collective high-level structuring of conversations, with intelligent indexing and display (through machine learning), so that on-line communities will have better tools for collective discussion. A real usable system should be built, and trialled with real users.

Supervisors

You will be supervised primarily in the CS department by Chris Watkins and Matthew Hague. You will also be a member of the Magna Carta centre, where there will be other research students working on different aspects of discussion in on-line communities.

Professor Chris Watkins (Computer Science, machine learning) is one of the developers of Reinforcement Learning, and has research interests in the quality of discussions on Reddit, and in intelligent visualization.

Dr Matthew Hague (Computer Science, programming language research) has research interests in higher-order recursion and formal manipulation of css style sheets.

Dr Rikke Berg Jensen (Information Security Group) is interested in human behaviour in organisations, and in on-lline communities.

Professor David Denney (Center for Criminology and Sociology) has many research interests, among them the nature of on-line political discussion.  

How to Apply

Please contact Chris Watkins as soon as possible to discuss the proposal: mailto:C.J.Watkins@rhul.ac.uk

Applicants should have a good (at least 2:1) undergraduate degree, in Computer Science or in a subject with substantial programming content.

Leverhulme Magna Carta awards are for a full-time studentship, with an annual stipend of £16,553 and an HEU fee waiver. Limited support may be available to support students in research training activities.

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

London