The Institute for Information Law (IViR) is looking for a postdoctoral research scientist to work on trust and technology. Apply here until 31 July.

IViR is the host institution of an ERC starting grant by Dr Balázs Bodó, which focuses on the regulatory challenges around the latest iteration of decentralized technology networks. Within the context of that research, trust in, and by technology has emerged as one of the key concepts to be addressed through interdisciplinary research.

In particular, we see new technological infrastructures which try to produce trust in various social, economic contexts, but whose trustworthiness we can hardly be confident of, or verify.  For example, digital reputation management systems (such as rating used in e-commerce services, or reviews on platforms like Airbnb or Uber) facilitate economic transactions between strangers on a global scale. Distributed ledgers, and other decentralized technologies promise to minimize the need for trust by the automated enforcement of technology-encoded rules. Machine learning systems offer supposedly trustworthy recommendations based on the statistical analysis of large surveillance datasets. These systems produces often highly contentious, and increasingly plausible visions of how our trust-necessitating social, political, economic relationships could be re-organized around these new technological forms of trust production.  

Each of these new modes of trust production represents a usually private form of social, economic ordering. The central research interest of the Lab is the interaction between the public and private, technical, institutional and legal modes of governance; the ways in which they compete with, complement, or enhance each other. The central question we hope to address through this research is the following: how these different modes of ordering may interact, and lead to more or less trust in the technical systems we increasingly rely on to trust each other.

Job description

As a research scientist, you’ll be working on the social and institutional aspects of trust in and by technological systems. Multiple technologies emerged to produce trust (such as global reputation systems, (self-sovereign) identity systems), or minimize the need for trust (DLTs). Trust, as produced by technical systems has many possible sources: strong cryptography, censorship resistance through decentralization, good governance, or legal legibility, certainty and compliance. Some of these trust sources, like technology governance and regulation, can complement each other. Others, such as compliance and decentralization, seem to be in contradiction. As a research scientist, you will be working with legal scholars on answering the following two questions at the intersection of trust and technology:

  • What are the new technological forms of trust production, and trust minimization?
  • What makes these technological systems trustworthy, or untrustworthy?

You will answer these questions by studying various aspects of trust and trustworthiness in technological contexts. In particular, we ask you to conduct empirial research related to the theoretical framework outlined in the following article (under review in a leading journal in the field): Bodó, Balázs, Mediated Trust – A Theoretical Framework to Address the Trustworthiness of Technological Trust Mediators (September 28, 2019). Available at SSRN.

You will:

  • conduct empirical research among technology developers on the trustworthiness of technology:
    • design and implement surveys, and conduct qualitative analysis on how technology developers see the trustworthiness of technology they build and operate, and how they implement and balance different sources of trust in technological systems (system design, governance, legal compliance, etc.);
  • conduct empirical research among technology users on the topic of trust:
    • design and implement surveys among users of blockchain based systems on the issue of trust and trustworthiness;
    • conduct a qualitative analysis of the discourses around trust and DLTs;
  • work on the problem of institutional embeddedness of decentralized technical systems:   
    • conduct empirical research on how existing societal stakeholders (such as businesses, the media, various professional groups, regulators, policymakers) see the trustworthiness of decentralized technologies, and their ability to produce trust;
    • study the institutional change that may be necessary to better incorporate technical trust producers in systems of accountability and oversight; 
  • work with legal scholars on new policy proposals aimed at building trust in digital technologies, and between users of such systems;
  • contribute to the development of research methodology and infrastructure; 
  • organize workshops to discuss and disseminate the research findings.