Umeå University, Department of Computing Science

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Research topic: Creating Socially Aware Dialogues

Umeå University, the Department of Computing Science, is seeking outstanding candidates for a PhD student position in Computer Science with focus on socially aware AI. Deadline for application is January 1, 2020.

The Department of Computing Science is a dynamic environment with around 120 employees representing more than 20 countries worldwide. The Socially Aware Artificial Intelligence group (led by prof. Frank Dignum) conducts research into AI systems that start from the premise that AI is used in social contexts and should be aware of the social consequences of its behaviour. For this purpose the group investigates (formal) models of social concepts and their implementation in AI systems ranging from social robots to social simulations and multi-agent systems. The group collaborates with several national and international research groups, and has active links with industry and policy organisations For more information on Frank Dignum see

The project is financed by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation (KAW). The intention is that the student will be associated to the WASP-HS graduate program, focusing on humanities and societal impact of AI (see The graduate school within WASP-HS provides foundations, perspectives, and state-of-the-art knowledge in the different disciplines taught by leading researchers in the field. It thus provides added value on top of the existing PhD programs at the partner universities, providing unique opportunities for students who are dedicated to achieving international research excellence with industrial relevance.

Research project
In order to move from current, limited chatbot interactions with automated systems towards more useful dialogues we need to develop dialogue systems that have a better understanding of the user and the social context in which the dialogues take place. In the other hand the dialogue system should use its knowledge of the user and the social context to direct the dialogue, resolve ambiguities and create expectations of the interaction. This will lead us from a reactive AI system that only reacts to the input of a user to an interactive AI system that can incorporate question-answer series, but also returning questions asking for explication, checking whether information is understood, explaining which user input is not understood or should be formulated in a different way, etc. However, where a user has a pretty good (and simple) model of the AI system when the chatbot is very limited (e.g. limited to filling in numbers or yes/no questions), this becomes more complex when the dialogues become more realistic and interactive. Thus the expectations of users about the capabilities of the AI system will increase and perhaps become unrealistic.

The aim of this project is to develop a dialogue system that can gradually get more realistic while keeping the user informed about its capabilities. This should provide a good balance between naturalistic dialogues and user expectations at all times. We will start from dialogue systems already developed by members of the group and incorporate specific social concepts such as social practices, conventions and norms to achieve the desired interactivity without the problems of scalability of completely free natural language dialogues. In order to test the usability of the developed dialogue system we aim to have at least one use case related to social robotics.

Note that machine learning techniques in NLP is not the focus of this project.

About the position
The successful applicant will receive a competitive salary for a period of four years of full time PhD studies. PhD students are typically offered the opportunity to gain teaching experience on suitable undergraduate courses. If so, the employment period is extended to cover the time spent on teaching (at most 20 %). Expected starting date is 1st of April 2020 or as otherwise agreed.

Admission requirements
The applicant is required to have completed a second- cycle level degree, or completed course requirements of at least 240 ECTS credits, of which at least 60 ECTS credits are at second-cycle level, or have an equivalent education from abroad, or equivalent qualifications. To fulfil the specific entry requirements for doctoral studies in computing science, the applicant is required to have completed courses at second-cycle level degree equivalent to 60 ECTS credits in computing science, or in a subject considered to be directly relevant for the specialisation in question.

Candidates are expected to have very good knowledge of computational linguistics and AI techniques. Demonstrable knowledge of dialogue systems, intelligent virtual agents and social robotics is an advantage. In particular, candidates should be well acquainted with modelling and implementing dialogue systems and/or chatbots.

We particularly invite female candidates to apply to ensure gender balance.

Since research is conducted in an international research environment, the ability to collaborate and contribute to teamwork, and a very good command of the English language, both written and spoken, are key requirements.

A complete application should contain the following documents:

  • A cover letter including a description of your research interests, your reasons to apply for the position, and your contact information
  • A curriculum vitae
  • If applicable, copy of completed BSc and/or MSc thesis and other original research publications
  • Copies of degree certificates, including documentation of completed academic courses and obtained grades
  • Contact information for two persons willing to act as references

The application must be written in English or Swedish, and attached documents must be written in or translated to English or Swedish. Documents must be in Word or pdf format. Applications must be submitted electronically using the e-recruitment system of Umeå University, and be received no later than January 1, 2020. Reference number: AN 2.2.1-1378-19.

Interested applicants are also encouraged to apply for the position with the reference number: AN 2.2.1-1460-19.

The procedure for recruitment for the position is in accordance with the Higher Education Ordinance (chapter 12, 2§) and the decision regarding the position cannot be appealed.

The recruitment aims at a balanced gender distribution, and in particular women are encouraged to apply.

For additional information, pleasecontact professor Frank Dignum,

We look forward to receiving your application!

Type of employment Temporary position longer than 6 months
Contract type Full time
Number of positions 1
Working hours 100%
City Umeå
County Västerbottens län
Country Sweden
Reference number AN 2.2.1-1378-19
  • Frank Dignum, professor ,
Union representative
  • SACO, 090-786 53 65
  • SEKO, 090-786 52 96
  • ST, 090-786 54 31
Published 21.Oct.2019
Last application date 01.Jan.2020 11:59 PM CET

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