PhD Position: Enabling co-regulation for long-term engaging semi-structured conversations

Why build AI systems that replace people if we can build AI systems that collaborate with people?
Hybrid Intelligence is the combination of human and machine intelligence, expanding human intellect instead of replacing it. Our goal is to design Hybrid Intelligent systems, an approach to Artificial Intelligence that puts humans at the centre, changing the course of the ongoing AI revolution.
The project will be recruiting 15 PhD or postdoc positions in total. For more information on the project see www.hybrid-intelligence-centre.nl.


Location: AMSTERDAM
FTE: 1

Job description

At Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, we are looking for a PhD student to investigate co-regulation for long-term engaging semi-structured conversations.
A key challenge in human-machine dialogues is to provide more flexibility to a user and allow the user to co-regulate a conversation (instead of being directed by the agent’s conversation script or flow). We will develop a conversational agent that is able to establish and maintain a common understanding in co-regulation with its user, by offering the flexibility to deviate from the conventional sequences in structured question-and-answer or instructional dialogues. This may, for example, occur in education when a child is asked to solve a math problem and is not sure about the answer, or in health care when a patient shows hesitance when answering a survey question and would like to ask a clarification question, or when a user is unclear about a cooking assistant’s instructions. In such cases, rather than moving on to the next math problem or survey question, the user should be allowed to deviate from the main dialogue line (‘the happy flow’) to come to a mutual understanding and restore common ground. We will collect conversational data that can be used to extract common conversational patterns that indicate a user wants to take control of the dialogue flow, and will research and design an agent that is able to handle this. For example, the agent should be able to decide to either (i) ask a follow-up question (ii) provide feedback (verbalize its understanding of the humans’ answer), or (iii) give additional explanatory information to assist the user. A second aim of this project is to address the level of user engagement in such highly structured conversations that tend to be repetitive, by enabling the agent to memorize and refer back to relevant pieces of information in the conversation history or earlier conversations with the same user, and by incorporating variation in the agent’s utterances. The research project is based at the VU Amsterdam, and will be co-supervised by University of Amsterdam researchers.
 

Requirements

We are looking for someone with a background in Artificial Intelligence or Computational Linguistics with a strong interest in conversational agents and automated conversation management, and experience with natural  language processing techniques. The ideal candidate also has experience with user-centered approaches for design and evaluation of conversational agents.
If you want to be also considered for one of our other PhD positions, then also upload your documents to our Hybrid Intelligence talent pool at https://bit.ly/HIC-Talentpool. Your information will then be shared among the researchers in the consortium, and you may be approached for one of the other positions listed on www.hybrid-intelligencecentre.nl/jobs.
 

What are we offering?

A challenging position in a socially involved organization. The salary will be in accordance with university regulations for academic personnel and amounts €2,395 (PhD) per month during the first year and increases to €3,061 (PhD) per month during the fourth year, based on a full-time employment. The job profile: is based on the university job ranking system and is vacant for at least 1 FTE.

The appointment will initially be for 1 year. After a satisfactory evaluation of the initial appointment, the contract will be extended for a duration of 4 years.

Additionally, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam offers excellent fringe benefits and various schemes and regulations to promote a good work/life balance, such as:
  • a maximum of 41 days of annual leave based on full-time employment 
  • 8% holiday allowance and 8.3% end-of-year bonus 
  • solid pension scheme (ABP) 
  • contribution to commuting expenses
  • optional model for designing a personalized benefits package

About Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam

The ambition of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is clear: to contribute to a better world through outstanding education and ground-breaking research. We strive to be a university where personal development and commitment to society play a leading role. A university where people from different disciplines and backgrounds collaborate to achieve innovations and to generate new knowledge. Our teaching and research encompass the entire spectrum of academic endeavour – from the humanities, the social sciences and the natural sciences through to the life sciences and the medical sciences.

Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam is home to more than 26,000 students. We employ over 4,600 individuals. The VU campus is easily accessible and located in the heart of Amsterdam’s Zuidas district, a truly inspiring environment for teaching and research.

Diversity
We are an inclusive university community. Diversity is one of our most important values. We believe that engaging in international activities and welcoming students and staff from a wide variety of backgrounds enhances the quality of our education and research. We are always looking for people who can enrich our world with their own unique perspectives and experiences.

The Faculty of Science
The Faculty of Science inspires researchers and students to find sustainable solutions for complex societal issues. From forest fires to big data, from obesity to medicines and from molecules to the moon: our teaching and research programmes cover the full spectrum of the natural sciences. We share knowledge and experience with leading research institutes and industries, both here in the Netherlands and abroad.

Working at the Faculty of Science means working with students, PhD candidates and researchers, all with a clear focus on their field and a broad view of the world. We employ more than 1,250 staff members, and we are home to around 6,000 students.
 

About the department, institute, project
The VU Department of Computer Science has approximately 170 members, including 35 tenured staff members and 50 PhD students. Within the department, the Social AI group aims to advance AI to improve the way humans and machines understand and interact with each other. This research is part of the Hybrid Intelligence (HI) project.
 

Application

Are you interested in this position? Please apply via the application button and upload your curriculum vitae and cover letter until 31 August 2020

We strongly encourage women to apply. If equally qualified, we will choose for a female candidate.

Applications received by e-mail will not be processed.

Vacancy questions
If you have any questions regarding this vacancy, you may contact:

Name: Prof. Dr. Koen Hindriks
Position: Full Professor
E-mail: k.v.hindriks@vu.nl
Telephone: +31 20 59 87763
or
Name: Dr. Florian Kunneman
Position: Assistant Professor
E-mail: f.a.kunneman@vu.nl
Telephone: +31 20 59 84452

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Job area:PhD
Educational Level:MSc
VU unit:Faculty of Science
Contract type:Temporary with prospects to extension
Minimum FTE:1
Minimum salary scale:€2,395 (PhD)
Maximum salary scale:€3,061 (PhD)
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