A new job: Research Fellow in User-Centred Innovation for Accountable AI

Today marks my first day as a post-doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Aberdeen where I am working in the School of Natural and Computing Science as part of an interdisciplinary, EPSRC-funded project called RAInS (Realising Accountable Intelligent Systems).

Working with the RAInS project team and external stakeholders, my primary responsibilities for the next two years will be to investigate issues of trust and accountability in intelligent systems (AI). This will be done using qualitative research methods to answer questions surrounding the accountability of systems related to specific use cases.

For the non-AI folks, you can think of this (very, very simply) as looking at who/what is “responsible” when a self-driving car goes rouge or when AI-based hiring decisions are racist/sexiest.

The research was originally planned as a series of hands-on co-design workshops, but given the current state of the world (COVID19), we might need to re-think how best to proceed. I have been thinking about potential (digital) methods over the last couple of weeks and I am sure that we will have a few conversations about how to proceed in the next couple of weeks.

For now, I am just getting myself up to speed. I have several documents and literature to review to provide me a good overview of the project from background literature and proposals to research summaries and workshop artefacts from other research partners. I am hoping that by the time I get through those files we will have a better idea of how to proceed.

It is a bit of a strange start, given that we are on lockdown orders as part of the UK’s COVID19 response. This means that my work will be done remotely for the foreseeable future. I just hope that it won’t be long until I can move into my flat in Aberdeen and start meeting my new colleagues face-to-face. In the meantime, thank goodness for technology!

Clearing out and moving on(ish)

I cleared out my PhD office at Edinburgh Napier University today. It was a bit of a strange feeling as I know that I will be back in the office a few more times before the end of the year as I finish up a project that I am working on with my colleague, Gemma. But at the same time, I’ve left. I am no longer a PhD student. I am no longer an associate lecturer. I am no longer a regular employee, although I am still listed as associate staff whilst I do some mop-up work. But mop-up work isn’t quite the same, and the paycheques have ceased!

When I left, I did so without fanfare. There were no good-byes. There were no “we’ll miss yous”. There were no leaving drinks; no email to alert people of my change in circumstances. I just… left. And that lack of fanfare left me feeling quite deflated. It left me feeling that my time at Napier was inconsequential; like I am not/was not an integral part of the Napier Machine. (I know that’s not true, really, I do!)

And I am still kind of there. Or at least, I will be around for occasional meetings over the next few months. That means I will still be interacting with folks from my research group, which would make “goodbye” seem silly. Although once my project there is done, I suppose I will just silently fade into the past; I will just be someone that folks “used to know”. (There will be some connections that continue, I hope!)

But, alas, this is another part of my story. I have to leave Napier so that I can go onto the next thing. I have to leave Napier so that I can build my academic career out there in the Big Bad World. Indeed, I have already gone onto the next thing by way of my post-doc in Dundee. And I am actively applying for other posts in the UK and further afield. Oh, and I have applied for a small pot of funding for a small project with one of my Napier colleagues, so my real departure might be delayed a bit longer.

Anyhow… now that I have boxed up my Napier office, I have to start working on putting my home office. That is where I will spend most of my Dundee hours, as I will only commute twice per week. It is also where I will work on applications for other jobs.

Of course, that task will have to wait just a bit. Because I am leaving for my summer holidays to The Homeland tomorrow. Which also means that I don’t have to think about the sadness of clearing out my office and moving on with my life. For now, at least! It also means that I will have to go through all of the contents from my office after my holidays. So I suppose the clear-out isn’t complete quite yet!