PhD studentship in Agency and Smart Technologies: ethical implications

University of Birmingham - Birmingham Law School

Supervisor(s) Prof. Sylvie Delacroix
Funding availability: University-funded PhD project (UK, EU, Overseas (non-EU))

Research interests/description of main research themePhD studentship in Agency and Smart Technologies

Overall Aim: To understand the impact of increasingly ubiquitous computing on normative agency (and its policy implications)

The studentship will research at least one of the two following strands, and applicants should actively relate to (and engage with) at least one of the two research strands below in the Research Summary and Research Proposal.

Strand 1: Personalised profiling and Ethical agency

Far from being confined to recorded online behaviour, the data that is relied on to personalise Digital services in real time will eventually include physiological indicators of nascent emotions. The sophisticated profiles that are made possible by such data will enable smart applications to mould our perceived environment (and its offerings) to our anticipated desires and attitudes. This has dramatic consequences for ethical agency. The latter indeed presupposes the ability to acknowledge a discrepancy between one’s present ethical stand and the person one seeks to be. The danger is that such discrepancy will simply cease to arise in an environment that has been systematically “optimized” in accordance to one’s profile. This strand of research links up insights from moral psychology and ethical theory to review the adequacy of our current regulatory framework when it comes to the systematic recording of our machine-readable past (and present).

Strand 2: Decision-support systems and normative agency

Among the variety of systems designed to simplify our practical reasoning, some are more open to contestation than others. In contrast to legal systems (whose contestability we continually strive to improve), relatively little attention has been given to the extent to which the decision-support systems that are being deployed in morally loaded contexts may become so very good at simplifying our practical reasoning that we may find ourselves in never-ending moral holidays. These might look attractive at first, until we find ourselves unable to quit such holidays. Are there ways of designing such support systems (whether they are deployed in legal, medical or public policy applications) so as to maximise incentives to mobilise our “moral muscles” (which would otherwise become atrophied through lack of exercise)? This strand of research bridges the gap between ongoing research in moral psychology / philosophy and human-computer interaction studies.

Funding information:

This award includes

  • Payment of approved fees.
  • Maintenance grant for the student – currently £14,553 per annum for 2017 entry.

The candidate would have a first class degree in Law, or Computer Science, or Philosophy, or Public Policy (with a relevant specialisation). Any combination of these disciplines would be particularly appealing.

The deadline for receiving applications (including two references) is 4pm on 15 January 2018. For details of how to apply, and to download application and reference forms, please visit: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/College-of-Arts-and-Law-Law-Studentship.aspx

Interviews will be conducted in February 2018.

Contact for enquiries: Informal enquiries may be addressed to the College of Arts and Law Graduate School: calpg-research@contacts.bham.ac.uk

References:

Applications must be supported by two references. Applications must be supported by two references. It is the responsibility of the applicant to forward the reference form to both nominated referees, and advise them that references must be returned by the application deadline, 4pm on 15 January 2018. For details of submitting references and to download the reference form, please visit: https://www.birmingham.ac.uk/postgraduate/funding/College-of-Arts-and-Law-Law-Studentship.aspx

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Type / Role:

PhD

Location(s):

Midlands of England