Research Fellow, Moral AI

Classification: Academic Level B
Salary Package: $98,009-$111,365 AUD per annum plus 17% superannuation
Term: Full time, Fixed term (3 years)

Position overview

The ANU is launching a major new project on Humanising Machine Intelligence, uniting social scientists, philosophers, and computer scientists in the pursuit of a more ethical future for AI and Machine Learning.

One Research Fellow position will be based in the ANU Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs (Bell School), with a broad focus on the political dimension of the project. 

The Bell School is a world-leading centre for research, education, and policy analysis on international and Asia Pacific politics, security, diplomacy, and strategic affairs. The School is made up of five vibrant units: the Department of International Relations, the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, the Asia Pacific College of Diplomacy, the Department of Pacific Affairs, and the Department of Political and Social Change.

We strongly encourage applications from people with PhDs in Politics, Political Science, Political Philosophy, or International Relations, with a background working in any relevant subfield.  Prior experience working on machine intelligence is advantageous but not required.

Machine intelligence is already used in innumerable applications that, while not explicitly morally-loaded, have clear and profound social implications, from facial recognition, to the distribution of online attention. It is also used to support decisions that have explicit moral dimensions, for example about how to allocate welfare resources, and whom to grant bail or parole. And the application of MI in fully autonomous decision-making systems (robotic and otherwise) is picking up pace. Self-driving vehicles, autonomous weapons systems, and companion robots are the first wave of such systems; many more are on the way. Many companies and governments are also heavily invested in developing more general, multipurpose forms of AI. All of these autonomous systems must be able to make morally-loaded decisions by themselves.

In each of these fields inadequate attention to ethics in the design of MI systems will predictably have negative social consequences, some of which could be catastrophic. The goal of the HMI project is to forestall those risks, and help to realise the tremendous social benefits promised by MI. The project has three components: (1) Discovery: formulate the design problem by identifying the social risks and opportunities of widespread reliance on MI. (2) Foundations: identify and answer the fundamental theoretical questions on which progress towards ethical MI depends. (3) Design: develop ethical algorithms and broader MI systems in partnership with industry and government.  The successful candidate would directly contribute to one or more of these components, and, along with the other research fellows, would be involved in a collaborative endeavour that brings together all three.

The HMI project chief investigators are: Associate Professors Seth Lazar (Project Leader), Professor Toni Erskine (International Relations / Politics), Colin Klein and Katie Steele (Philosophy), Professors Marcus Hutter, Sylvie Thiébaux, Bob Williamson and Lexing Xie (Computer Science), Dr. Jenny Davis (Sociology), and Associate Professor Idione Meneghel (Economics).

We are looking for up to eight talented researchers to help us humanise machine intelligence. Our primary criterion is demonstrated research excellence in a discipline area relevant to the project, and the clear potential to be research leaders in their disciplines and in the field of moral AI. An interdisciplinary background is not required, but successful applicants will be ready and equipped to engage with scholars from other disciplines, and are expected to work actively with scholars from at least two of the project’s discipline areas.

Successful applicants will help us design the next generation of more ethical MI systems, in part through publishing internationally influential research in the leading peer-reviewed venues (as suited to their discipline). We expect them to go on from the ANU to leading positions in academia and industry. As well as conducting research at the highest level, they will help build the HMI community at ANU and globally, through convening a regular seminar series and international workshops.

Full time, fixed term appointments for 3 years, with possibility to extend to 5 years. Proposed start date July 2019

Candidates who meet the selection criteria for this position may also submit applications to the other Research Fellowships advertised here and here.

For enquiries on this position, please contact Professor Toni Erskine:, and for more information on the HMI project see:

Closing date: 10 February 2019

Position description: Research Fellow_Level B_Moral AI_PD.pdf

ANU values diversity and inclusion and is committed to providing equal employment opportunities to those of all backgrounds and identities. For more information about staff equity at ANU, visit

Application information

Applicants must apply online via the ANU recruitment portal and should upload the following separate documents:

  • A statement addressing the selection criteria.
  • A current curriculum vitae (CV) which includes the names and contact details of four referees (preferably including a current or previous supervisor). If your CV does not include referees you can complete these online when prompted in the application form.
  • A 1-2 page research statement, outlining your research to date, your research objectives for the next 3 years if appointed, and how you see yourself contributing to the overall collaborative project.
  • A writing sample.

Applications which do not address the selection criteria may not be considered for the position.