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PhD on Preserving Human Capabilities & Extending Well-Being

Research / Academic
Eindhoven

Rapid advances in sensors, artificial intelligence (AI), and the Internet of Things (IoT) hold the promise of enhancing human capacities and prolonging well-being as we age. Philosophers are increasingly viewing human well-being as the exercise of various capacities, some of which significantly change during senescence. Cutting-edge augmentation technologies have the potential to replace or improve many deteriorating capabilities, enabling us to maintain physical abilities (e.g., exoskeletons) and cognitive health (e.g., brain-computer interfaces). Such technologies increase our ability to live independently for longer, while also boosting our overall quality of life. Nevertheless, technological advances of augmentation technologies simultaneously disrupt long-held normative notions about how human capabilities are connected to the good life (Nussbaum 2020, 2011) and how to view senescence (Sen 1993). This has direct implications for the design of technologies that seek to augment our capabilities, especially when such augmentation technologies aim to replace capabilities later in life.

Scientific progress on the question of how to enhance age-dependent capabilities is hampered by a widening gap between 1) the power of STEM-based technologies to enhance a wide range of human capabilities, and 2) normative accounts of well-being, specifically ethical theories that link the ability to exercise a full range of capabilities to living well (Jacobs 2020). The PhD researcher will join an interdisciplinary team aiming to unite the practices of STEM disciplines that make augmentation technologically possible with philosophical insights that shed light on which augmentation technologies are ethically desirable for improving life quality. This stands to significantly improve the future design of end-of-life technologies, especially technologies that explicitly connect the exercise of human capabilities to well-being in later life.

By uniting STEM and ethical approaches to the future design of augmentation technologies, the holder of this PhD position will have the following key deliverables:

  1. Developing a generalisable approach to how STEM subjects and normative (ethical, legal) disciplines work together, emphasising how STEM practitioners can actively co-design normative frameworks. To do this, the candidate will develop methods that foster a productive dialogue between STEM and ethical disciplines, exploring generalizable approaches - possibly moving beyond ethics guidelines - for the collaborative integration of technological and normative practices.
  2. Unpack cultural and conceptual differences to create new approaches to interdisciplinary confrontation. Potentially, share these with affiliated research programmes that also seek to do multi- and/or trans-disciplinary research (e.g., Hybrid Intelligence, SIENNA).
  3. Show how a framework that emphasises preserving human capabilities & extending well-being can be useful in the ethical evaluation of other socially disruptive technologies.

Funding & Institutional Embedding

This PhD position is funded by the Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies (ESDiT). It will be hosted by Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e), primarily by the Human-Technology Interaction Group, but also by the Philosophy & Ethics Group. The PhD will participate in the activities of these groups, as well as the recently launched, Expertise Centre Dementia & Technology.

Please note that there are other vacancies funded by the ESDiT programme that are currently advertised. In case several of these are of interest to you, we encourage you to apply to them simultaneously.

The ESDiT Programme

The Ethics of Socially Disruptive Technologies programme is a ten-year international research programme of seven academic institutions in the Netherlands, which started in January 2020. This programme has a combined budget of € 27 million and is funded by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research in the Gravitation funding scheme for excellent research, and by matching funds from the participating institutions. The duration is from January 2020 to December 2029.  The programme has the aim of achieving breakthrough research in at the intersection of ethics, philosophy, technology / engineering and social sciences, and to position its consortium at the top of its field internationally. A key objective is to investigate how new technologies challenge moral values and ontological concepts (like 'nature', 'human being' and 'community'), and how these challenges necessitate a revision of these concepts. Within ESDiT, this project will be embedded in the Human Condition Line and the STEM track.  A fuller description of the Human Condition Line and the STEM track, as well as the programme as a whole, can be found on the ESDiT website: https://www.esdit.nl/

Human-Technology Interaction Group

The Human-Technology Interaction (HTI) group analyses human interactions with technology with the aim to better understand and improve the match between technology and its users. HTI combines expertise from areas of social sciences (mainly cognitive and social psychology and perception) with engineering. The group's lab facilities offer opportunities to study virtual reality, auditory perception, gaming, lighting, and general psychological lab resources. The group's research centers around five main areas: human-computer interaction and affective computing, decision-making and human-data interaction, social psychology and persuasion, contextual environmental psychology, and human perception and cognition. HTI takes part in multiple collaborations and multidisciplinary research. More information about HTI can be found here.

Philosophy & Ethics Group

TU/e's Philosophy and Ethics (P&E) group connects philosophy and ethics to emerging technologies and innovation. Researchers in the P&E group primarily study innovative technologies and technology-related problems in detail to enable empirically informed analyses that are meaningful to philosophers, researchers across disciplines, and other societal stakeholders. To do this, the group has established close interdisciplinary collaborations with researchers from groups in the TU/e School of Innovation Sciences, as well as with mechanical engineers, climate scientists, and archaeologists, among others. The group's expertise covers a variety of philosophical sub-disciplines, including applied ethics, normative ethics, meta-ethics, philosophy of science and technology, and epistemology. More information about P&E can be found here.

Expertise Centre Dementia & Technology

The ECDT collaborates with Alzheimer Nederland and TU Eindhoven, aiming to contribute to changing the approach to dementia in society. The technology developed and implemented is referred to as 'Warme Technologie' (Warm Technology), as it involves continuous collaboration with individuals with dementia and their caregivers, following the principle: 'Nothing about us, without us'. Existing assistive technology is still too often developed for the elderly instead of with the elderly. And too often, the technology, such as interactive screens and sensors, is the focus instead of the needs, wishes, and possibilities of the target group. At ECDT, researchers work with healthcare organizations, caregivers, nurses, companies, designers, and others. Together, we develop warm technology that is user-friendly and non-stigmatizing and aims to improve the quality of life and well-being of people with dementia. More information about ECDT and warm technology can be found here.

Requirements:

  • A master's degree (or an equivalent university degree) in philosophy or related discipline.
  • A research-oriented and impact-orientated attitude.
  • Ability to work as part of a team of researchers working on similar topics.
  • Interested in collaborating with governmental, policy, and industry stakeholders.
  • Fluent in spoken and written English.
  • We particularly welcome applications from candidates belonging to groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in academia, including, but not limited to, women and ethnic minorities.
  • The desired starting date is November 2024.

Salary Benefits:

A meaningful job in a dynamic and ambitious university, in an interdisciplinary setting and within an international network. You will work on a beautiful, green campus within walking distance of the central train station. In addition, we offer you:

  • Full-time employment for four years, with an intermediate evaluation (go/no-go) after nine months. You will spend 10% of your employment on teaching tasks.
  • Salary and benefits (such as a pension scheme, paid pregnancy and maternity leave, partially paid parental leave) in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities, scale P (min. €2,770 max. €3,539).
  • A year-end bonus of 8.3% and annual vacation pay of 8%.
  • High-quality training programs and other support to grow into a self-aware, autonomous scientific researcher. At TU/e we challenge you to take charge of your own learning process.
  • An excellent technical infrastructure, on-campus children's day care and sports facilities.
  • An allowance for commuting, working from home and internet costs.
  • Staff Immigration Team and a tax compensation scheme (the 30% facility) for international candidates. 
Work Hours:

38 hours per week

Address:

De Rondom 70