PhD position in Security and Privacy of Conversational AI Systems (1.0 FTE)

Updated: about 2 months ago
Deadline: 13 Feb 2023

Founded in 1614, the University of Groningen enjoys an international reputation as a dynamic and innovative institution of higher education offering high-quality teaching and research. Flexible study programmes and academic career opportunities in a wide variety of disciplines encourage the 36,000 students and researchers alike to develop their own individual talents. As one of the best research universities in Europe, the University of Groningen has joined forces with other top universities and networks worldwide to become a truly global centre of knowledge.

Within the Faculty of Science and Engineering, a 4-years PhD position is available at the Bernoulli Institute for Mathematics, Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence with the topic of security/privacy of machine learning. The candidate would become a member of the Information Systems Group of the Computer Science Department and will work under the supervision of Dr Fatih Turkmen.

The development of conversational AI technology has seen rapid progress in recent years, both chat-based (a.k.a. text-based) and voice-based, enabled by large pre-trained language models. The technology is highly successful in conversational agents that support a large number of services, such as Alexa and Siri. In particular, in the Dutch ecosystem, diverse economic stakeholders share an ambition to develop increased technological autonomy in the area of conversational AI.

As part of a large consortium, this PhD project aims to develop auditing techniques for privacy protection in conversational agents and develop measures to make the agents more resilient against malicious attacks and/or information theft. More specifically, the student will:

  • look at the security/safety characteristics of ML systems commonly used in conversational agents
  • study the applicability/impact of various families of ML attacks (e.g., membership/property inference, model reconstruction, backdoors)
  • develop novel cryptographic methods or adapt existing ones (e.g., multi-party computing, differential privacy, homomorphic encryption) for the preservation of privacy in the context of chat-based conversational assistants.

The project consortium includes various Dutch universities and large industrial stakeholders at one of which the student is expected to spend some time.

For more information visit the project Web page:

The objective of the temporary position is the production of a number of research articles in peer-reviewed scientific journals and conference proceedings, which together will form the basis of a thesis leading to a PhD degree (Dr) at the University of Groningen.

The successful candidate should have:

  • a keen interest in pursuing fundamental and interdisciplinary research at the interface of conversational AI and security/privacy
  • master’s degree in computer science, artificial intelligence or mathematics/cryptography, with substantial knowledge of machine learning and/or security/privacy. Ideally, you have working knowledge of privacy-enhancing technologies
  • good analytical skills and a positive attitude towards interdisciplinary work.

We offer you, following the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities:

  • a salary of € 2,541 gross per month in the first year, up to a maximum of € 3,247 gross per month in the fourth and final year for a full-time working week
  • a holiday allowance of 8% gross annual income and an 8.3% year-end bonus
  • a full-time position (1.0 FTE). The successful candidate will first be offered a temporary position of one year with the option of renewal for another three years. Prolongation of the contract is contingent on sufficient progress in the first year to indicate that a successful completion of the PhD thesis within the next three years is to be expected. A PhD training programme is part of the agreement and the successful candidate will be enrolled in the Graduate School of Science and Engineering.

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