PhD Human Labor in the generative A.I. supply chain

PhD Human Labor in the generative A.I. supply chain

Published Deadline Location
25 Jan 18 Feb Rotterdam

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Interested in studying human labor and labor standards in the AI supply chain? Join the Feminist Generative AI Lab as a PhD Candidate in the Social Sciences!

Job description

During the development of AI, large amounts of data must first be organized, annotated and processed, a task mostly performed by human workers. This makes human labor a critical component of the AI supply chain. These workers are sourced through digital labor platforms that are often unregulated and offer low wages, raising concerns about labor standards in AI-development. During this PhD trajectory you will study human labor as part of the AI supply chain. You will do this research as part of the pioneering Feminist Generative AI Lab, which offers an interdisciplinary environment combining artificial intelligence, design, and social sciences.

Job description
We invite applications for a fully funded PhD position in the social sciences, focusing on human labor in the generative AI supply chain. The PhD Candidate is invited to prepare and execute an independent PhD project that should include empirical research among data workers (who generate, annotate, and enrich data). In most cases, data work is performed by workers from low-income countries, who earn poverty wages. For generative AI to be ethical and fair, it should account for the fair treatment of data workers. This research leads to insights into how fair treatment might look like according to the workers themselves.

Research Context
Rapid advancements in generative AI have created enormous demand for manual data labeling and curation, tasks that are carried out by workers who are mostly invisible to the end users of AI. Data work is essential to the production and maintenance of AI-powered services. According to Tubaro et al (2020), there are three contributions data workers make to AI systems: generating and annotating data (AI preparation), verifying model output (AI verification), and by directly mimicking model behavior to produce a service (AI impersonation).

Studies focusing on data work spatial distribution highlights how AI companies in the global North outsource data work to Global South workers due to lower labor costs and advantageous labor laws. This project examines how data work is outsourced in a broad sense by examining every data work process in the AI value chain.

To date, ethical frameworks for AI have focused on important societal impacts of AI deployment, including user privacy, discrimination, and bias in AI-driven predictions and decisions. However, most frameworks for ethical AI remain silent on the role of the human labor in the development and maintenance in AI systems. Explicitly acknowledging fair treatment of data workers as a key component of ethical AI will raise the visibility of human workers among all stakeholders in the generative AI supply chain.

This part of the Feminist Generative AI Lab thus focuses on extending knowledge about human labor necessary for AI-systems to function. Such insights can inform a feminist approach of the human AI supply chain, and form the groundwork for platform design and activism.

Methodologies and Activities
The research can be conducted through case studies, a combination of qualitative and quantitative research, digital methods, and participative methods. Activities will include:
  • Design an independent PhD project
  • Conduct empirical research (probably also abroad)
  • Translate results into theoretical and practical lessons
  • Engage and develop activities with the staff and other PhDs in the Feminist Generative AI Lab
  • Publish and present research results on workshops and conferences
  • Communicate research findings to a broader audience
  • Participate in the ESSB graduate school’s training program


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)


  • Master’s degree in Sociology, Science and Technology Studies, Development Studies, Human Geography, Communication Studies, Human-Computer Interaction, or a related field
  • Training in qualitative and quantitative research methods
  • Excellent verbal and writing skills in English
  • Open to travel/ to conduct part of the data collection abroad
  • A demonstrable interdisciplinary and collaborative orientation
  • Familiarity with (generative) artificial intelligence and an interest in data feminism or feminist AI principles

This PhD position offers a unique opportunity to contribute to cutting-edge research at the intersection of social science, design, feminism, and artificial intelligence, with the potential to shape the future of inclusive and just technological landscapes. We encourage applicants from diverse backgrounds and experiences to apply.

Conditions of employment

We offer you an internationally oriented and varied job in an enthusiastic team, with excellent working conditions in accordance with the Collective Labour Agreement for Dutch Universities (CAO-NU).

The start date of this position is 1 April 2024 and you will be based at Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB). This position is for 0.8 fte - 1 fte FTE. The salary ranges from a minimum of € 2.770 to a maximum of € 3.539 gross per month on a fulltime basis (38 hours), in accordance with Scale P of the CAO-NU. The contract is entered into for the duration of one year, to be continued based on good progress and good performance with three more years, leading to a total appointment of four years.

Everything else we offer you, you can find below!


Erasmus University Rotterdam

Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR) is an internationally oriented university with a strong social orientation in its education and research, as expressed in our mission ‘Creating positive societal impact’. EUR is home to 3.700 academics and professionals and almost 33.000 students from more than 140 countries. Everything we do, we do under the credo The Erasmian Way – Making Minds Matter. We’re global citizens, connecting, entrepreneurial, open-minded, and socially involved. These Erasmian Values function as our internal compass and create EUR’s distinctive and recognizable profile. From these values, with a broad perspective and with an eye for diversity, different backgrounds and opinions, our employees work closely together to solve societal challenges from the dynamic and cosmopolitan city of Rotterdam. Thanks to the high quality and positive societal impact of our research and education, EUR can compete with the top European universities.

Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences (ESSB)
The Erasmus School of Social and Behavioural Sciences is home to a vast diversity of scientific disciplines: public administration, pedagogical sciences, psychology and sociology. In addition, the Erasmus University College, IHS, and two research institutes RISBO and DRIFT are linked to the faculty. This also reflects in the content of the (international) bachelor's and master's programs and in research. Our activities are always focused on people and society. At the ESSB fundamental, internationally oriented research is of paramount importance. In addition, social research for professionals, policy makers, and the society is part of our research activities. ESSB offers a stimulating research environment where major national and international research grants are received. Appealing guest researchers and ambitious PhD candidates come along to conduct their research. Our education is small-scale and works with innovative forms of education. Both the Dutch and English programs are highly ranked by students and alumni. ESSB is home to over 4000 students and more than 400 staff-members. The different disciplines are supported by the Faculty Office (for more information, please visit


Team Public Issues & Imaginaries (PI&I) consists of more than 30 interdisciplinary teachers and researchers with backgrounds in, amongst others, Sociology, Science & Technology Studies, Public Administration, and Media Studies, and with connections to partners both within and beyond the university. We are committed to the production of knowledge for imagining (more-than-human) living together in ways that are less exploitative, extractive, unequal, and more democratic, sustainable, and liberating. That is why we develop teaching and research on major contemporary public issues (urban politics, work & digitalization, migration, race, gender, class & inequality, global warming & sustainability), as modes of engagement with a variety of publics. Our ways of working together, for and with publics, can be captured in our three core signatures:
  1. We seek critical interrogations of and constructive interventions in public issues;
  2. We see teaching and research into public issues as modes of engagement;
  3. We seek to transform scientific and academic practice by emphasizing quality over quantity, engagement over disinterestedness, diversity over monoculture, and good work relations over a competitive rat race.

Department of Public Administration and Sociology (DPAS)
DPAS covers the disciplines of Public Administration and Sociology. Two related scientific fields with different profiles. Public Administration studies governance capacity and policy interventions. It focuses on the institutional power to organize and intervene in the relations between different social, political and economic actors. Public Administration in Rotterdam goes well beyond the public realm itself and pays attention to public-private cooperation and networks of organizations. Sociology investigates the social structure of societies and the way it evolves. Sociologists in Rotterdam focus among other things on processes of globalization and individualization and on the effects of these processes on international social relations, the labor market or family relations. Related social problems that are studied are migration, flexibilization and solidarity. The perspectives of Public Administration and Sociology complement each other. Together they guarantee a highly relevant and scientific approach to topical administrative and social issues. The bachelor- and master programmes of DPAS are build on this profile and educate students to become scientifically schooled professionals.


  • PhD
  • Behaviour and society
  • 32—40 hours per week
  • €2770—€3539 per month
  • University graduate
  • 4047


Erasmus University Rotterdam (EUR)

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Burgemeester Oudlaan 50, 3062PA, Rotterdam

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