Copyright 2018 - Gesellschaft für Fantastikforschung

'What we dream comes to fruition: diversity, artificial intelligence, and science fiction'

With support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), the National Productivity Investment Fund (NPIF), and the Scottish Graduate School for Arts & Humanities (SGSAH) we are delighted to announce a fully funded PhD studentship opportunity for a project focusing on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Data-Driven Research.

We are offering an exciting opportunity to conduct a three-year study of science fiction (SF) narratives about artificial intelligence, whilst gaining practical experience of real-world problems through co-operation with our non-academic partners.

The recruited student will take part in public engagement and creative writing activities to share knowledge and expertise from the project.


Project Summary

Representations of AI in science fiction influence how technologies develop and how the general public interacts with them. A lack of diversity is a problem both in SF and in the UK’s AI industry. Inclusive worlds exist in SF, but largely on the periphery of academic scholarship and popular culture trends. Understood broadly, ‘design’ which is more sensitive, inclusive, and adaptable should be a gold standard for creative practice, scholarship, and software development alike. This project draws upon a broad range of SF narratives to inspire the development of more accessible technologies, broaden participation and inform public debate about AI.

The aims and objectives of the studentship are:

  1. With a focus on diversity in AI, to initiate a new flow of ideas across academic disciplines (Humanities and Computing), and between academia and UK government
  2. To share the benefits of this knowledge exchange with industry and the general public, through public engagement activities and by interfacing with AI industries
  3. To contribute to the common good and enhance UK security through a better understanding of the importance of diversity in the AI workforce and in AI design
  4. Depending on the background and interests of the student, to produce an original and innovative doctoral thesis that would (as examples):
  • document the cultural factors involved in the problematic representation and under-representation of diversity in SF;
  • describe how overlooked or new forms of narrative could inspire new directions in software design or the public relationship with AI;
  • produce a series of case studies relating the representation of AI in SF to software design manifestations in the real world, and propose alternatives through imaginative thinking;
  • approach software design problems using analytical methodologies drawn from the Arts & Humanities, with the aim of enhancing accessibility and usability 

The research questions are:

  • How can science fiction narratives inspire design strategies that prioritise usability for a diverse national community?
  • How can SF narratives influence the design of more sensitive, inclusive and adaptable AI?
  • How might exposure to a wider range of narratives encourage the development of a more diverse workforce in the AI industry?
  • How can we better educate and inform the general public about the moral, legal, and ethical concerns surrounding AI, with a special emphasis on diversity, accessibility and inclusion?
  • How can design goals prioritising diversity help grow the AI industry in the UK and enhance our security and prosperity?

Research Environment

The studentship is jointly supervised by Dr Nicole Devarenne in Humanities and Professor Annalu Waller in Computing at the University of Dundee. We will be working with two non-academic partners: Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) and Craft Prospect. Please see below for more information on our partners.

The University of Dundee offers the only science fiction master’s degree in Scotland, drawing upon staff’s wide-ranging expertise in science fiction literature, film and comics. Humanities’ Scottish Centre for Global History provides an internationally-focused research environment. Humanities also houses the Scottish Centre for Comics Studies and has been the Scottish hub for the UK’s Being Human Festival of the Humanities since 2015. We host a regular postgraduate forum, visiting speakers and an annual postgraduate conference.

Computing at Dundee has an emphasis on Human Centred Computing and Intelligent Systems across a wide range of fields, and addresses real world problems. Staff have expertise in artificial intelligence, with research interests and initiatives in artificially intelligent games; argumentation; cryptographic protocols; computer vision, pattern recognition and machine learning methods; augmentative and alternative communication; and accessible computing. Computing at Dundee welcomes, and is accustomed to, interdisciplinary work.

Dstl (Defence Science and Technology Laboratory) is the UK’s leading government agency in applying science and technology (S&T) to the defence and security of the UK. Dstl brings together the defence and security S&T community, including industry, academia, wider government and international partners, to provide sensitive and specialist S&T services to the Ministry of Defence and wider government. It seeks to understand risks and opportunities through horizon-scanning, and champions and develops science and technology skills across MOD.

Craft Prospect is an SME with offices in Glasgow and Edinburgh, specialising in enabling technology systems for small satellites. Their staff have lead and developed small satellite systems in Europe and Asia for new mission concepts. Products include a forward imager that makes real-time, on-board decisions for a satellite, influencing data set collection. A social enterprise working closely with Craft Prospect staff, Omanos Analytics, looks to support citizen journalists in developing countries as they process and interpret AI-based knowledge (earth observation data).

Supervision, Training and Facilities

Academic supervisors will work with the student to ensure that research outputs and public engagement activities effectively support the research outcomes, objectives and impacts. In accordance with the agreement between the HEI members of the SGSAH consortium, the student will have formal meetings with the lead supervisor at least ten times per year and with both supervisors at least five times per year. Frequent meetings with Dstl will take place by telephone or Skype, and the student will work on-site with our non-academic partner(s).

The University of Dundee will supply supervision of the student. It will also provide the student with all facilities available to the doctoral student community. These include a well-stocked library, on-line research resources, archive facilities, a research space, training in research methods and a vibrant research community. The student will interact with internationally established researchers and international research visitors through the AHRI (Arts and Humanities Research Institute). The Centre for Creative and Critical Cultures also offers a series of events. The student will have access to academic and personal support services.

Dstl will provide support for the researcher in terms of mentoring, sharing expertise, and offering access to their programmes and initiatives.

Some travel, including international travel, is anticipated. The student will be supported in terms of their attendance at training and development events organised by SGSAH.

How to Apply

To be considered for the studentship please complete the NPIF AI Studentship Application Form available here and submit it along with your application to UCAS.

The deadline for applications is 5 pm on 24 August 2018. You should submit two references with your application or ask your referees to send these to .

It is anticipated that interviews will be held in early September.

Contact Us

Enquiries can be directed to .

Further information on the studentship can be found on the SQSAH site.