Study As
Full Time or Part Time

Principal Supervisor
Professor Markus Stumptner

Main Campus
Mawson Lakes

Applications Close
30 Nov 2022

Study Level

Applications Open To
Domestic Candidate or International Candidate

Tuition Fees:
All domestic students are eligible for a fee waiver. International students who receive a stipend are eligible for a fee waiver. Find out more about fees and conditions.

Project Stipend:
No stipend available

About This Project 

The University of South Australia is welcoming applications for a PhD position in Artificial Intelligence/Computer Science to work on the project "Goal-Directed Agent Interaction in Social Environments". 

The predicted ubiquity of digital assistants and agents is based on great expectations for their ability to interact effectively with human users in organisational and social contexts. Autonomous behaviour and participation in complex economic, legal, educational or health related interactions will require that the software controlling such agents can accommodate the commitments and obligations that are implied in these situations. A system (agent) needs to understand both the goals for which it is employed, and how to achieve them in a particular situation.  The need to express orders and potentially complex situation descriptions will exceed the capabilities of purely visual environments or standard keyword matching mechanisms implemented in chatbot architectures. This project is expected to build on the explicit modelling of Speech Acts (structured interactions between human or computer agents) as part of the processing of communications and dialogues executed in natural language.   

The project seeks to develop novel artificial intelligence techniques for communication between agents and humans, using health advisory scenarios as case studies and source for requirements. The successful applicant will develop novel artificial intelligence methods for language understanding, goal modelling and reasoning, building on an existing controlled natural language toolkit employed in other complex environments.

The recipient should have an outstanding academic record and a background in Computer Science or Artificial Intelligence.

The outcomes of this project will enable demonstration and approaching potentially interested industry parties for further collaboration, for example from the health sector. Outcomes of this project will include: 
  •  knowledge representation techniques that allow the representation of goals and Speech Acts as well as handling of the underlying situational knowledge of an intelligent agent interacting with different parties (agents) in an organisational or societal context.
  • A concise formal approach to describe the relationships between Speech Acts, goals and situational rules (norms) in agent-to-agent interactions.
  • By explicit handling of norms this will contribute to the body of work in the area of "ethical AI".
  • Goal learning techniques, potentially based on case retrieval and incremental modification (case-based reasoning)\ implementations for demonstration purposes based on use cases developed with the supervisors

What you’ll do

The successful candidate will be a part of the investigation, development, and evaluation of methods for analysing negotiation strategies through interactions with an AI bot. This includes: 
  • performing a literature review in AI, and Natural Language Processing and Dialogue Systems (incl. Deep Learning and knowledge-based approaches); 
  • identifying suitable analytics approaches to model the dialogue interactions as they relate to Speech Acts, goals, and norms;; 
  • develop an algorithm or approach for performing such analysis; and 
  • evaluating the developed approach. 

The project will also include the writing and submission of research papers, and some travel to domestic and international conferences is expected.

You will gain skills in understanding AI and Machine Learning in the areas of Natural Language Processing/Understanding, modelling and simulation, intelligent agent architectures, ontologies, and representation of and reasoning about legal and ethical norms.

Where you’ll be based

The project is placed within the Industrial AI (IAI) Research Centre.  It builds on multiple of the IAI research themes (Natural Language Understanding, Autonomous Systems, Knowledge Representation and Reasoning), while providing new capabilities that could be fed back into other projects in the AI and NLU space.

The project will potentially benefit from the existing collaborations between Industrial AI and medical research concentrations (Stanek and Stumptner are affiliate members of the Australian Centre for Precision Health, a research concentration within SAHMRI, and are in a joint CRC project with the Rosemary Bryant AO Research Centre).  However, no specific set of end users is essential to the research outcomes, which will be applicable in multiple domains.

Supervisory Team

Financial Support 

This project is funded for reasonable research expenses. A fee offset for the standard term of the program is available to Australian and New Zealand citizens, and permanent residents of Australia, including permanent humanitarian visa holders.  Additionally, any Australian Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander applicant who holds an offer of admission without a living allowance will be eligible for the Aboriginal Enterprise Research Scholarship. This scholarship is to the value of $45,076 per annum. Any Aboriginal Enterprise Research Scholarship recipient will also receive a fee waiver. Where an international applicant holds an external scholarship or sponsorship a full or partial fee waiver may apply in some circumstances for exceptional applicants.  Other international applicants will be required to pay full tuition fees of approximately AUD$39,700 per annum (2023 rates).   

Eligibility and Selection 

This project is open to application from both domestic and international applicants. 

Applicants must meet the eligibility criteria for entrance into a PhD. Additionally, applicants must meet the projects selection criteria:  
  • Knowledge of logic programming or knowledge representation techniques

Applicant who can also demonstrate the following will be highly regarded: 
  • Experience in object-oriented programming
  • Experience with conceptual modelling

All applications that meet the eligibility and selection criteria will be considered for this project. A merit selection process will be used to determine the successful candidate. 

The successful applicant is expected to study full-time or part-time, and to be based at our Mawson Lakes campus in the north of Adelaide. Additionally, applications from students studying externally will also be considered. Note that international students on a student visa will need to study full-time. 

Essential Dates 

Applicants are expected to start in a timely fashion upon receipt of an offer.  Extended deferral periods are not available. Applications close on Wednesday, 30 November, 2022 

How to apply:

Applications must be lodged online, please note UniSA does not accept applications via email.

For further support see our step-by-step guide on how to apply , or contact the Graduate Research team on +61 8 8302 5880, option 1 or email us at You will receive a response within one working day.

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