Postdoctoral stipend (2 years) in Autonomous Systems’ Ability to Understand Their Own Limitations

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Umeå University announces one stipend for postdoctoral research in autonomous systems’ abilities to understand their own limitations. The stipend is part of a massive effort on autonomous systems for industry and society of the future, with eight postdoctoral stipends in eight separate subprojects. We welcome your application!

The Department of Computing Science ( is a dynamic department with about 100 employees from over twenty countries. We are providing research and education within a broad spectrum of areas, and offer education on basic, advanced, and PhD levels. The research is internationally well recognized and includes basic research, methods development, and software development, but also research and development within various application domains.

This currently announced stipend is associated with the Cognitive Engineering group that is embedded in an international research context. Research of the group addresses cognitive issues in communication processes between human and system, and in people’s use of assistance systems. To this end the group employs approaches and methods from artificial intelligence, human-computer interaction, and cognitive science.

Project description
We are opening a postdoctoral stipend for research on autonomous systems’ ability to understand their own limitations.

Knowing when full autonomy will fail and collaboration with others is needed to successfully execute a task is a fundamental ability for humans to ensure efficiency, safety, and even survival. This ability is equally important for autonomous systems, in particular artificial cognitive agents who operate in our public or private spaces where they will often be faced with ill-defined or ambiguous human requests. Without this ability, these systems may get lost in their operations. This may be taken quite literally for systems freely operating in our environments, such as autonomous robots or self-driving vehicles, but is equally problematic for other autonomous systems, which may get stuck faced with a multitude of possible actions or decisions. In order for autonomous systems to know that they need support, they need some way of realizing that their current plan will most likely not result in the intended outcomes, or that they may not be able to make reasonable decisions given the situation they are currently in. In these cases, human-in-the-loop operation, i.e., asking a human user for performing parts or the task, will allow resolving uncertainty or seeming contradictions. However, for this to work, the system needs to communicate its need for help and potential reasons for failure or confusion to the human operator in adequate ways. For specific scenarios, this project will explore mechanisms for autonomous systems to infer that they need human support in their task execution. A focus of the project will be on principles for interaction between system and human in such situations of need. Potential scenarios include spatial navigation, in particular in the context of self-driving vehicles, or performing operations that may manipulate equipped indoor spaces (e.g., in the context of eldercare).

The project is part of a major effort including eight postdoctoral stipends in autonomous systems. For more information, see

The stipend is for two years with a starting date to be negotiated. The stipend, provided by the Kempe Foundations, amounts to 300 000 SEK per year. The stipend is not subject to tax.

A qualified applicant is required to have a PhD degree or a foreign degree that is deemed equivalent in Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, Human-Computer Interaction, or another subject of relevance for the project. The PhD degree should preferably not be more than three years old by the application deadline. The applicant should be strongly motivated and interested to develop new competencies, as well as to act in an international environment.

Documented knowledge and proven research experiences in some of the areas of Computer Science, Cognitive Science, Artificial Intelligence, or Human-Computer Interaction is required. Good research merits and scientific publications in the area of the position are strongly meriting. International research experience, as well as experience in interdisciplinary research, is a merit. Experience in performing empirical studies is a merit.

A successful candidate should be capable of performing practical development in the area of autonomous systems as well as producing scientific publications in English. Very good knowledge of English, both spoken and written, is required.

The application, preferably written in English, should include:

  • An introductory letter summarizing your qualifications, research interests, and motivation for applying (max 2 pages),
  • CV with list of publications,
  • Copies of PhD thesis and relevant publications
  • Copies of degree certificates,
  • Name and contact information for two or three reference persons.

Umeå university is an equal opportunity employer, therefore, we welcome female applicants in particular.

Further information is provided by Dr. Kai-Florian Richter at

Your complete application, marked FS 2.1.6-1303-17, should be sent electronically (in pdf-format) to (provide the reference number on the email’s subject line). Application deadline is 2017-09-18.

We look forward to your application!

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