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Scholarship details

RTP2021 R2 Ethical and Sociocultural Impacts of AI/Autonomous Machines as Communicators

Status: Open

Applications open: 15/07/2020
Applications close: 1/09/2020

View printable version [.pdf]

About this scholarship

Human-machine interactions have been a part of many people’s everyday lives for a long time. Increasingly though, people are interacting and communicating with machines described as “smart”, having a level of “artificial intelligence” and being semi-autonomous or autonomous in their operation. These concepts apply to physical machines, such as household appliances (fridges and washing machines), robots whether encountered in social spaces, workplaces or homes, and vehicles (as they become closer to being self-driving). They also apply to software, often in the form of bots and chatbots that communicate with people directly in various contexts and populate our social networks, computers and other devices. The need to consider critically the finer details of human-machine communication is therefore significant in relation to current, short- and mid-term developments, as well as thinking ahead to future scenarios.

While humans have a tendency to interact with any machine as a social being—naming and talking to cars and computers, for example—such a response is even more likely as machines attain a level of autonomy that imbues them with apparent “liveliness” and “personality”. Exploring potential changes in sociocultural structures and expectations that arise as people’s responses to machines and their ability to relate to machines increase in complexity is an important area for research. More broadly, while the development of AI and autonomous machines of various types promises a number of benefits, their use also raises ethical concerns in terms of how these technologies are often proprietary systems in the hands of profit-driven private companies. Even state-funded and controlled systems raise many questions relating to the ethics of government use of such technology, as well as their ability to keep people’s information safe. Ethical questions about AI and autonomous systems are being raised globally in relation to how these systems work, the data upon which their operation is based, the information they collect and collate, how decisions are made, who benefits or is disadvantaged, and where responsibility for the actions of the machine falls. There is also considerable concern over how the design, development and implementation of AI/Autonomous machines and systems reflects and ingrains existing social, political, and economic inequalities.

This project asks applicants to engage with perspectives from the humanities and the social sciences that are key in critically assessing technologies and their impacts, as well as in developing frameworks to ensure they are beneficial for more people. The aim is to develop new understandings of human-machine interaction and communication, with a focus on the existing and potential future ethical and sociocultural impacts of machines deemed to be somewhat or somehow “intelligent”. There is flexibility for applicants to focus on human interactions with communicative software or with physical machines across a range of theoretical perspectives within this project.

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Humanities
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • International Student
  • Merit Based

Total value of the annual scholarships (stipend and fees) is approx. $60,000 - $70,000 p.a.

Curtin PhD Stipends are valued at $28,092 p.a. for up to a maximum of 3.5 years.

Successful applicants will receive a 100% Fee offset.

Scholarship Details


All applicable HDR courses

English language IELTS level of:

o   6.5 Listening 

o   7 Reading and Writing

o   6 Speaking

o   6.5 Overall

Application process

To apply for this project opportunity applicants must submit an email to the contact Project lead listed below. The email must include their current curriculum vitae, a summary of their research skills and experience and the reason they are interested in this specific project.

The Project Lead will select one preferred applicant for this project and complete a Primary reference on their behalf. 

After confirmation from the Project Lead that they will receive a primary reference for this project the applicant must submit an eApplication for admission into the applicable HDR course no later than 1st September 2020.

All applicants must send an external referee template to their chosen external reference. 

All references are confidential and must be submitted by the referee directly to no later than 1st September 2020.

Scholarship applications submitted without a primary reference or a completed application for admission will be considered incomplete.

For further information on the application process or for more RTP2021 Round 2 scholarship project opportunities visit: 

Enrolment Requirements

Eligible to enrol in a Higher Degree by Research Course at Curtin University by March 2021


To apply for this project opportunity email your current curriculum vitae, a summary of their research skills and experience and the reason you are interested in this specific project to:

Name: Dr Eleanor Sandry


Contact Number: +61 8 9266 7436

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