My name is Rebecca L. Johnson but most people call me Bec. I am a PhD researcher in the School of History and Philosophy of Science, Faculty of Science at the University of Sydney. In my PhD I look at the ethics of Generative AI through a sociotechnical lens.
Research interests: Philosophy of Generative Artificial Intelligence (GenAI), particularly embedded values in the development and deployment of these models and the co-construction of reflected values in generated outputs. Theoretical frameworks I use include, measurement theory and validity, moral philosophy and value pluralism, participatory realism (from philosophy of quantum mechanics), cybernetics (specifically n-loop learning), sociotechnical systems theory, complex systems, and human alignment of GenAI.
Rebecca is an expert in the ethics of generative AI (GenAI). She is a final year PhD researcher at The University of Sydney, she spent a year at Google Research in the Ethical AI team and has received scholarships from Stanford and MIT to participate in AI Ethics conferences. Her work is focused on value alignment of GenAI; specifically, normative biases embedded in these models and the processes we use to evaluate them. She is a Managing Editor for “The AI Ethics Journal” founded at UCLA and supported by several elite universities in the USA, and is on the Editorial Board for the Springer journal AI and Ethics. In April 2023, Rebecca convened and Chaired ChatLLM23 at The University of Sydney which was Australia’s largest conference to date on the ethical risks and impacts of GenAI. Rebecca also the founded the global group “PhD Students in AI Ethics” which consists of +600 members. In 2020 she was listed on the “100 brilliant women in AI ethics” by Lighthouse 3. Rebecca holds a Bachelor of Science, a Bachelor of Communication, and a Master’s by Research. She has taught both undergraduate and Master’s level units at Sydney University since 2016. She is proudly a dual citizen of both Australia and Canada which reflects her love of the mountains and the ocean. When not immersed in GenAI, you can most often find her outside walking with her boxer dog.
- One-year residency at Google in the Ethical AI department.
- Listed on 2020 “100 Brilliant women in AI ethics” by Lighthouse 3″
- Founder, PhD Students in AI Ethics Through that group, I organised a two-day research vignettes conference in 2022
- Member of the BigScience project at Hugging Face since 2021 and one of the early members of the ethical sub-group.
- In April 2023 I developed and convened the largest conference on the ethics of Generative AI ever held in Australia called ChatLLM23. The full day event consisted of three speaker streams, +34 speakers, +100 attendees in person, +200 attendees virtually. Recordings are here.
- In July 2023 I followed up ChatLLM23 with ChatRegs23 a workshop thinktank on AI policy and regulation.
- Member of Women in AI.
Scholarships & Awards
Research Training Program (RTP) Stipend Scholarship
A primary scholarship that provides a stipend for the duration of the PhD program. “This is a Commonwealth Government scholarship awarded to assist students of exceptional research potential with their studies.” Letter of offer from The University of Sydney.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Scholarship 2019
In 2019 I received a scholarship from MIT to attend the prestigious EmTech conference held at the MIT Media Lab. It was a fantastic opportunity to hear directly from many of the world’s leading edge innovators and to observes the ethics discussions around some of these innovations. The opportunity also enabled me to meet with MIT Media Lab researchers also working on the future of work. Additionally I met with the senior leaders for Graduate Research at both Harvard and MIT to discuss what measures they are taking to best prepare PhD students for work outside the Academy.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Scholarship 2020
In 2020 I received a second scholarship from MIT to attend EmTech Next. The conference was held virtually due to the pandemic, nevertheless, the insights from many business technology leaders were very enlightening. I am very grateful to MIT for two scholarships in such a short time frame.
Postgraduate Research Prize for Leadership
Faculty of Science, The University of Sydney, 2022. “The Faculty of Science Postgraduate Research Prize for Leadership is awarded to HDR students who take on additional responsibilities through leadership roles or representation at their School, Faculty and University committees and/or in professional organisations and undertake outreach within the community.”
Stanford University Scholarship 2023
In 2023 I received a generous scholarship from The Embedded Ethics Center and the Human-AI Center (HAI) to attend the Embedded Ethics conference on the main campus. It was a fantastic event and I also appreciated the opportunity to meet with other senior leaders in the field whilst I was there.
I have worked as a Unit Co-ordinator, Lecturer, and Tutor since 2016. I have taught and coordinated subjects at Master’s, Honours, and Undergraduate levels. Subjects include: Ethics in Science, Emerging Technology, Introduction to Philosophy of Science, Organisational Communications, Leadership in Business, and Media and Communications. I have written and developed entire unit outlines as well as numerous lesson plans and assessments. I have also taught new tutors how to teach both in person and on-line. I hold two certifications for higher education teaching courses. Feedback reports from my students consistently place my teaching at 4.6-4.9 out of 5.
Master of Arts by Research The University of Sydney, 2016-2018
Thesis: Direct Voice: Including the student voice in academic governance in a large, research-intensive university. Supervisors: Professor Ross Coleman, Director of Graduate Research, and Dr Alana Mann, Chair of the Department of Media and Communications. My Master’s work advanced our understanding of how to improve doctoral and graduate research students’ perception of their agentic power by employing concepts from complex systems theory. The work used cybernetic theory to design and test new communication and organisational learning structures between research students and university governance. The project was supported by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education and the Director of Graduate Research. Awarded without corrections and high distinctions from both examiners (90 and 85) who both gave very positive reports.
- “[T]his thesis makes an important contribution to the field of higher education studies and is a result of excellent research.” Examiner, Harvard University.
- “The thesis is well-written, and the arguments made in a nuanced way come to a variety of interesting conclusions.” Examiner, The University of South Australia.
Professional Development in Higher Education teaching
- Professional teaching development training in the Business School, five-week program, 2018.
- Six-week Professional Teaching Development Program run by the Faculty of Arts, 2016.
- Two-day intensive run by the Deputy Vice Chancellor – Education portfolio, 2016.
Bachelor of Arts (Communications)
The University of Calgary, 2014-2015
Graduated ‘With Distinction’ and a place on the Dean’s list. G.P.A. of 3.8 (out of 4). I completed two capstone theses during this degree; one looked at building a conceptual framework of complex systems theory combined with constitutive communication theory, and one explored the sociological impacts of how our online actions construct ‘digital terraforming’. Several written references from my teachers at Calgary are available.
Bachelor of Science (Earth Science)
Deakin University 1997 – 2001
My primary areas of interest were planetary geology and science communications. Invited to the Golden Key Society for Academic Excellence. Distinction average. Spent three summers volunteering with Monash University’s paleontological dig site in Inverloch. Invited to work on an Honours degree at Melbourne University working on geomorphological flow process on Mars under a CO2 model; work conducted with NASA collaboration.
HDR Connect – May 2019
I conceived, developed, and executed the largest higher degree by research (HDR) student-led event of this kind the University of Sydney had seen in memorable history. By bringing 400 HDR students together with 100 industry partners, I created a network across all faculties and with representatives from many industry sectors. After securing a total budget of AUD$38,000 (~USD$25,000) from the Deputy Vice Chancellor and other funding sources, I brought together a team of 40 research students to create this event. I also connected with many external stakeholders from a variety of industries including national government science bodies, state government departments, international consulting firms, and many other industry partners. This initiative was strongly supported by the executive leadership including the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, the Director Graduate Research, the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research, and the Academic Board. I received a personal letter of thanks from the Vice-Chancellor of the University on completion of the project and warm praise from many Senior Executive leaders. Two of the industry participants subsequently offered new scholarships to the University as a result of this event. Photographs of the day.
HDR Liaison Committee
After my Master’s by Research and many years as a student Councillor and advocate, I observed that the diversity of graduate researcher voices was not always adequately represented in governance for a due to a reliance on traditional majority vote structures. I decided to act on this problem and used the knowledge I developed in my previous work to build a novel format of student engagement. After months of planning and discussion with the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education and the Director of Graduate Research, I founded the HDR Liaison Committee with 40 research students. This body forms a conduit for a two-way dialogue between the graduate researcher cohort and the senior executives charged with developing policy and strategy for the HDR environment and experience. The largest social event I organised during my time as Chair of this body was a BBQ attended by +100 PhD students, here are the photos.
Elected Student Representative
- I served as an active Student Councillor for University of Sydney’s postgraduate student representative association for five terms.
- The University Executive – Research and Education committee (five years).
- The Academic Board (three years).
- The University Executive – Research committee (one year).
- The Academic Qualities Committee (two years).
- Supervisory Policy Review Working Party Committee.
- Sydney Operating Model reference group, student representative
- Learning Analytics Advisory Board.
- HDR+ grant review panel.
- Research student representative to the Faculty Board for Arts and Social Sciences (FASS) 2017