Tony Belpaeme

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Fully-funded PhD studentship on social robots, consciousness and value-aware AI

We are still looking for one PhD student to join our team! The AIRO group (Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, of IDLab-imec ( at Ghent University are excited to offer a fully-funded PhD studentship to help with our research on social robotics under the supervision of Tony Belpaeme.


Social robots are robots that interact with people in a natural manner by, for example, using speech, gestures, facial expressions and language. By using natural communication, these robots are easier to interact with and have many applications in entertainment, services, education, collaborative robotics and therapy [1].

You will join an international project called VALAWAI (short for Value-Aware AI) studying consciousness, values and AI. “Value-aware AI” is AI that includes a component performing the same function as human moral consciousness: a system that helps decide whether or not certain actions are morally acceptable. This system will be based on the Global Neuronal Workspace model developed on the basis of neurophysiological evidence and psychological data [2]. At Ghent University we will look at how social robots can become value-aware and how people respond to social robots that have some level of consciousness.

You will be supervised by Prof Tony Belpaeme ( and will be part of a vibrant and interdisciplinary research team, focusing on human-robot interaction, unconventional robotics, cognitive systems and machine learning. You will have access to the full facilities of IDLab, including high-performance computing/GPU clusters and the robot labs.

About us

Ghent University is an international top 100 university in Belgium situated in the historical and trendy city of Ghent. With 41,000 students and 9,000 staff, the university is one of the largest universities in the wide region. Ghent University’s mission is to combine high-quality education with internationally leading research and a pluralistic social responsibility. You will join the AIRO group, a group of 25 PhD students exploring the edges of AI and robotics, supervised by Tony Belpaeme, Francis wyffels and Joni Dambre.

Profile of the candidate

  • An MSc in computer science, electrical engineering, (technical) cognitive science, Human-Computer Interaction, psychology or areas relevant to the research topic (for example, computational linguistics with a keen interest in robotics and AI).
  • Good programming skills are required (C++, Python, or other) as you will programming robots and equipment and will be running data analyses.
  • Very good English language skills (spoken as well as written).
  • As the PhD position is highly interdisciplinary, an interest or understanding in (neuro)psychology and social sciences and other themes related to consciousness is desirable.

Further details

The position start date can be negotiated, but is tentatively set for 1/10/2022 and runs until 30/9/2026 (you will start with a one-year scholarship which can be extended to 4 years).

The net amount of the scholarship will be approximately €2250 per month. You will also receive a holiday allowance, an end-of-year bonus and –if you cycle, the preferred way of getting around in Ghent- a bicycle bonus. Additional financial support is available for attending conferences and workshops.

You will be affiliated with the Artificial Intelligence and Robotics group of the IDLab. While the research will be based in Ghent, occasional travel to international conferences will be required.

You will be enrolled in the doctoral training programme offered by the Doctoral School of Engineering.

Ghent University and AIRO lab encourages equal opportunities. We will consider applications based only on your potential as an early career researcher and your fit to the research programme.

How to apply

For informal queries, do not hesitate to contact Tony Belpaeme (

Your application should include

  • A letter motivating your application. Why do you wish to pursue a PhD in this area? How does your expertise match the research? What is your -if any- prior experience?
  • A full curriculum vitae. If appropriate, copies of relevant exams, grades, MSc thesis or publications.
  • The names and contact details of at least 2 referees. Recommendation letters can be included with your application, but are not needed at the time of application.

Applicants should send their application to with subject “PhD application VALAWAI”. Applications will be considered on an ongoing basis and will be accepted as long as no candidate has been appointed. Selected candidates will be invited for an interview, which can be online if necessary.

Additional reading

[1] Introduction to HRI at

[2] Dehaene, S., Changeux, J. P., & Naccache, L. (2011). The global neuronal workspace model of conscious access: from neuronal architectures to clinical applications. Characterizing consciousness: From cognition to the clinic?, 55-84.

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