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PhD studentship in Enabling Ethical Human-AI Reasoning in International Law

School of Informatics

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Prof M Rovatsos No more applications being accepted Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

One fully funded PhD position on a PhD project titled “Enabling Ethical Human-AI Reasoning in International Law”. The successful applicant will work with Prof Michael Rovatsos (Artificial Intelligence and its Applications Institute, School of Informatics) and Prof Nehal Bhuta (Edinburgh Law School) at the University of Edinburgh.

The recent growth of real-world applications of AI and Machine Learning technologies has raised significant ethical concerns regarding their use in sensitive domains. In this context, a specific concern is how these AI systems might impact the fairness, transparency, and accountability of decisions made by human experts using suggestions from ML systems trained on historical data. Many of these decisions take place in complex normative and regulatory contexts, but also rely on decision-makers expertise, tacit knowledge, and professional judgement.

In the context of legal reasoning and decision making, this project will investigate how these factors interact in practice, and aims to develop computational methods and empirically evaluated prototypes that enable legal experts to
• inspect and assess of statistical ML models derived from past cases,
• add explicit legal knowledge through appropriate symbolic representations,
• understand and influence the inferences made by AI components through, and
• interact with AI assistants in effective ways without specific AI/ML expertise.

The project will take refugee law as a concrete example of international law where rich data sources exist that can be used to train ML algorithms to assist the investigation of a particular case by identifying similar cases and/or predicting the expected outcome of a new case. It will follow a prototyping-based and heavily user-focused approach that will rely on producing functioning system prototypes at each stage that can be validated through close collaboration with legal professionals.

Candidate’s profile

Strong applicants will have:
• A good Bachelors degree (2.1 or above or international equivalent) or strong Masters degree in a relevant subject.
• Proficiency in English (both oral and written)
• A strong background in numerical and symbolic AI methods (e.g. statistical machine learning, NLP, knowledge representation, argumentation, dialogue systems);
• Experience in building user-facing software applications, ideally with some experience in HCI/UX design and evaluation and human factors methods;
• Excellent communication and teamwork skills, and the ability to communicate technical subject matter to non-(computing) experts;
• A strong interest in interdisciplinary work and engaging with domain experts to conduct user research and develop their own knowledge of the legal domain.
• A background in law, legal reasoning systems, or AI & Law is considered highly desirable.

Application Information

Applicants should apply via the University’s admissions portal (EUCLID) and apply for the following Informatics PGR programme: CISA: Automated Reasoning, Agents, Data Intensive Research, Knowledge Management (full time) with a start date of 01 November 2020.

Applicants should state “Enabling Ethical Human-AI Reasoning in International Law” and the research supervisor (Michael Rovatsos and Nehal Bhuta) in their EUCLID application and Research Proposal document.

Applications should be submitted by 15 June 2020; after that date applications will be considered until the position is filled. The anticipated start date is 01 November 2020 but later start dates can be considered.

Applicants must submit:

• All degree transcripts and certificates (and certified translations if applicable)
• Evidence of English Language capability (where applicable).
• A short research proposal (max 2 pages)
• A full CV and cover letter describing your background, suitability for the PhD, and research interests (max 2 pages).
• Two references (note that it the applicant’s responsibility to ensure reference letters are received before the deadline).

Only complete applications (i.e. those that are not missing the above documentation) will progress forward to Academic Selectors for further consideration.


The School of Informatics is one of the largest in Europe and currently the top Informatics institute in the UK for research power, with 40% of its research outputs considered world-leading (top grade), and almost 50% considered top grade for societal impact. The University of Edinburgh is constantly ranked among the world’s top universities and is a highly international environment with several centres of excellence.

Funding Notes

The studentship, funded by the CISCO Research Centre, is open to Home/EU fee status applicants starting in the academic year 2020/21. Funding covers:

• A tax free stipend of GBP £15,285 per year for 3.5 years.
• Full time PhD tuition fees for a student with UK/EU fee status (£4,407 per annum) for 3 years.
• Additional programme costs of £1000 per year for 3 years.

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