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Identifying and resolving the ethical challenges of emergent new technologies (e.g. AI/robotics) for supporting elderly people in the community

University of Edinburgh Business School

Edinburgh United Kingdom Artificial Intelligence Business Ethics Machine Learning Management Other Other Other Other Social Work

About the Project

The Advanced Care Research Centre at the University of Edinburgh is a new £20m interdisciplinary research collaboration aiming to transform later life with person centred integrated care

The vision of the ACRC is to play a vital role in addressing the Grand Challenge of ageing by transformational research that will support the functional ability of people in later life so they can contribute to their own welfare for longer. With fresh and diverse thinking across interdisciplinary perspectives our academy students will work to creatively embed deep understanding, data science, artificial intelligence, assistive technologies and robotics into systems of health and social care supporting the independence, dignity and quality-of-life of people living in their own homes and in supported care environments.

The ACRC Academy will equip future leaders to drive society’s response to the challenges of later life care provision; a problem which is growing in scale, complexity and urgency.


Background: This studentship addresses the research question: what are the ethical challenges of the use of AI in supporting elders in the community and the contingencies of their resolution? This is a provocative question for public management in the twenty-first century! The technology supporting AI/robotics has surged over the past decade, as has its potential in fields such as social care. This has led to increasing ethical concerns about such issues as privacy, autonomy, liberty/safety and the infantilisation/isolation of elders. However, existing studies have, to date, come primarily from a technological orientation. The solutions noted are consequentially instrumental, at the technological interface (e.g. the incorporation of ‘ethical-algorithms’ into AI). Whilst some have pointed to the need for human mediation of ethical dilemmas, there has been little research about what this means.

Uniquely this study will draw together the public management perspective with those of design and of informatics to generate new knowledge/theory and to drive forward the ethical application of AI in supporting vulnerable adults. It will be framed within a Public Service Logic approach that seeks to mediate values and value creation in the delivery of public services. This will be an innovative project with significant implications for theory and practice.


Aims and objectives of project: The project will develop and test an ethical framework for the design and implementation of AI/robotics in the support of vulnerable adults.


The project will:

• Explore the existing literature on AI/robotics and social care/public services so as to establish a conceptual framework, and to identify the future trends in the field, so as to identify the key ethical and public management challenges.

• Carry out empirical research to explore these challenges in practice.

• Use this empirical evidence to develop and test an original framework for the ethical applications of AI/robotics and consider its implications for theory and practice.

This is an under-researched area in public management. Both theory and practice require development of a human-mediated-ethical-framework to frame future theory and practice. This project will be unique both in being one the first studies to develop such a framework and in combining theory and research from both the public management and service design/informatics literatures. Its contribution will be to generate a novel framework for embedding human-mediated-ethics in the design and application of AI to social care. It will evaluate how to entrench ethics in, by, and for the design and application of AI in the social care field, through human mediation rather than through algorithms alone.

The project is intended to be a primarily qualitative, case study-led, project. It has been designed in collaboration with Blackwood Housing Association in Scotland, which will provide the core research sites for the project.


• A good undergraduate or taught postgraduate degree in public administration and management, or one of its associated fields (e.g. social policy, social studies, public policy, management studies)

• A strong interest in public administration and management and in the implications of new technology for it

• Good qualitative and case study research skills

• Strong oral and written communication skills, in both plain English and academic languages – both for publication in relevant academic journals and presentation at conferences and for communicating with service users, public service professionals and managers, and policy makers

Funding Notes

PhD's are fully funded with an above industry stipend for the full 4 year period.

The call is open to candidates of any nationality but funded places for overseas nationals will be strictly limited to 3 international students who can apply for the highly competitive ACRC Global Scholarship.

Application forms are now available here:
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Find more information on how to apply on the How to Apply section of our website:
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