Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Law, Ethics and Computer - Birmingham Law School - Grade 7 - 82099

Updated: 4 months ago
Location: Birmingham, ENGLAND

Postdoctoral Research Fellow in Law, Ethics and Computer - Birmingham Law School - Grade 7 - 82099 - (190003GV)



Position Details

Birmingham Law School - College of Arts and Law
Location:  University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham UK

Full time

Fixed term for 36 Months

Full time starting salary is usually within the range of £30,395 to £39,609. With potential progression once in post to £42,036
Closing date - October 14, 2019
Background and summary of role
This project seeks to identify, map and critically investigate how algorithmic decision-making systems (including those which utilise machine learning techniques) in the public sector are designed, tested, used for experimentation, and evaluated in both laboratory and ‘live’ environments.  Although large-scale computational experimentation on users is not new, advances in artificial intelligence have given rise to new forms of testing and experimentation on very large numbers of people.  Some of these practices have attracted considerable controversy in recent years, due to the novel risks that they may pose, including threats to human rights.  Yet relatively little is known about these new forms of testing, particularly in the public sector, even though these systems are already being deployed in ways that may seriously and adversely affect the lives of individuals and vulnerable groups. Nor have these practices attracted significant attention from scholars or policy-makers, despite their potentially serious ethical risks, particularly given the state’s unique position vis-à-vis citizens and the concomitant need to guard against the abuse of state power. The novelty of these practices may, however, bring them outside the scope of existing regimes of legal and ethical oversight. Accordingly, one of the primary aims of this project is to construct and develop an analytically rigorous governance framework, grounded in a commitment to human rights, democracy and the rule of law, that can help ensure that these practices are subject to legitimate and effective oversight.
The post-holder will be attached to both the Law School and the School of Computer Science, working under the supervision of Professor Karen Yeung, a leading legal scholar in the field of ‘machine ethics’ and the responsible governance of emerging technology, together with Professor Andrew Howes, a computer scientist with expertise in the human implications of computational decision systems.
The post-holder will be expected to lead and manage this project, to undertake all the primary and secondary research, and to ensure that the project succeeds in meeting its principal objectives within the scheduled timeframe.  A large part of the substantive work will consist of seeking to identify and comprehensively map the contemporary practices of designing, testing, experimenting with, and evaluating, algorithmic decision-making systems in the public sector.  The post-holder will also be required to organise and host stakeholder workshops, to undertake literature reviews (including relevant literature from the social sciences and humanities), to identify and analyse findings emerging from the research, and to take a leading role (under supervision) in developing research outputs and grant applications, building on the findings and insights arising out of the project.
Main Duties/Responsibilities
As a Postdoctoral Research Fellow you will:

  • Identify, map and monitor the development, testing, experimentation and evaluation of algorithmic decision-making systems and other algorithmic applications in the public sector, identifying state of the art and the likely trajectory of future developments;

  • Develop a strategy for gathering primary and secondary data that can be expected to elicit a representative sample of the kinds of testing, experimentation and evaluation of ADM systems in the public sector; 

  • Identify public sector organisations and individuals with relevant expertise to invite to stakeholder meetings and workshops, maintain minutes of meetings, arrange meetings with collaborators and stakeholders, and attend to administrative tasks required to organise successful stakeholder workshops;

  • Conduct semi-structured interviews with key individuals who are directly involved in developing, testing, conducting experiments and evaluating ADM systems in the public sector;

  • Make selective Freedom of Information requests to public sector organisations to identify how ADM systems are currently being tested, used for experimental purposes and evaluated both before and after deployment;

  • Undertake literature reviews of both academic literature and grey literature in several disciplines concerning the nature and range of the problems and concerns which the development, testing, experimentation and evaluation of ADM systems in the public sector may pose and critically evaluate the extent to which these concerns are satisfactorily addressed by existing regimes of legal and ethical oversight;

  • Based on the practices identified, (either in use or proposed): 
- Catalogue, describe and explain the underlying technological mechanisms through which these various forms of testing and experimentation are designed to work, the goals which the public sector organisation seeks to achieve via these practices, and the values implicated by their use;
- Identify the rights, interests and legitimate expectations of those directly affected by these practices, and accompanying ethical and legal concerns;
- Identify and critically assess the formal and informal governance structures which have emerged to control / influence these practices; and
- Systematically identify any weaknesses and gaps in existing oversight regimes.

  • Assess the implications of these practices for core values that are considered fundamental to the provision of lawful, high quality and human-rights respecting public services;

  • Analyse the results and work with the PIs to develop a coherent and robust framework to help ensure that such practices are undertaken in a manner which respects human rights, democratic freedom and the rule of law;

  • Develop and draft research outputs for publication and research grant applications based on insights and findings arising out of the project as it progresses;

  • Present research outputs, including, for example, drafting academic publications or parts thereof, at conferences, workshops and as posters;

  • Plan and attend project-relevant meetings, including regular meetings with, and working under the direction of, the project supervisors;

  • Monitor and maintain account of project expenditure where required; and

  • Ensure that the project complies with principles of research ethics and data projection and data sharing standards

Person specification 

  • A multidisciplinary background with an undergraduate degree in Law (or a related discipline) and at least a Master’s degree level qualifications in Law and/or any one of the following disciplines:

- Applied Ethics (including research ethics, data ethics, machine ethics, bioethics)
- Sociology (including Science and Technology Studies, the sociology of science or digital sociology)
- Politics (including political theory, political philosophy, political science) or 
- Public Policy or Public Administration (broadly defined), preferably with a special focus on research ethics and innovation, the ethics of science and technology. 

  • Outstanding analytic ability

  • Excellent organizational and communication skills

  • Interest in, and willingness to undertake, interdisciplinary training and research at the intersection between law, ethics and computer science


  • Demonstrated qualitative legal research and interdisciplinary research skills

  • An interest in, and basic conceptual understanding of, how algorithmic decision-making systems work, including data-driven systems which utilise machine learning techniques

  • Experience or interest in interdisciplinary research, preferably including training and experience in conducting qualitative empirical research 

  • A demonstrated track record of high quality analytic ability and academic writing skills and the production of high quality peer-reviewed academic publications

  • Experience or demonstrated interest in contributing to relevant policy debates;

  • Fluency in English;

  • Willingness to attract external funding for research projects;

  • Creative, critical, out-of-the-box thinking; and

  • Independence, reliability, autonomy

  • First class undergraduate degree and first class Master’s level degree qualifications

  • PhD qualification in Law or related discipline with direct relevance to the project

How to apply
Informal enquiries are welcome and encouraged. Potential applicants should contact the project’s Principal Investigator Professor Karen Yeung at [email protected]
Applicants are required to submit the following:
A covering letter of no more than 1,500 words that proposes one particular study that might be conducted as part of the project and explaining how your skills and experience would contribute to this study
A sample of writing of no more than 5,000 words relevant to the themes of the research project
The names and emails of two referees (ensuring that you have contacted your referees in advance about your application for this post)
Primary Location
: GB-GB-Birmingham
Work Locations
Birmingham Law School 
Law Building University of BirminghamEdgbaston
 Birmingham B15 2TT
: Academic Non-clinical
: Birmingham Law School
: Regular
Job Posting
: 12.09.2019, 7:00:00 PM
Grade (for job description): Grade 7
Salary (Pay Basis)
: 30,395.00
Maximum Salary
: 42,036.00
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