A day in the life of an assistant professor in AI – Giulio Mecacci

Portret van Giulio Mecacci
I came to Radboud University because of the societally relevant research, but I stayed because of the supportive environment, the green campus and the welcoming city.
Giulio Mecacci
Current role
Assistant Professor - Societal Implications of AI

Originally from Italy, assistant professor Giulio Mecacci is a big fan of Radboud University and Nijmegen. Why did Giulio choose to leave Italy and come to Nijmegen? And what does his research entail? He takes you with him during a day in his life at Radboud University.

What does your job entail?

“As assistant professor, I look at the societal implications of artificial intelligence. I examine how we can responsibly design AI, and I’m interested in human responsibility when working with new intelligent systems. With the rise of AI and machine learning, autonomous systems that don’t need human intervention are becoming more and more common. But what if a system like a self-driving car, a surgical robot or an autonomous weapon system makes a mistake? Who would be accountable for that? Is it the controller, the designer, or even the machine itself? To ensure humans retain moral responsibility over the actions of machines and remain in control of intelligent technology, I’m working on a notion of meaningful human control. As a philosopher working in the AI department, I get the opportunity to translate my research findings into concrete advice and therefore have an impact on the governmental and corporate sector, where it matters most.

Giulio staat in zijn bureau achter zijn laptop

Aside from my research, I also teach courses within the Bachelor’s and Master’s AI programmes. I’m happy I have a lot of freedom in setting up my courses as a teacher. For example, I’m currently designing exercises where students have to examine to what extent a technology design applies within EU regulations and propose design guidelines. It’s exciting that I can prepare future responsible AI professionals for the job market in the best way possible.

The focus on human values creates a sense of community for employees.

How did you end up at Radboud University?

Towards the end of my PhD in Italy, I had to spend some time abroad. I already knew Pim Haselager, a professor within the AI department at Radboud University. His research always intrigued me, so I thought: why don’t I visit Pim? We worked so well together that he offered me another PhD position at Radboud University. I finished my PhD in 2017 and spent some time working part-time here and in Delft, but since 2020 I have a full-time contract at Radboud University. I am very happy to be back and I have just bought a house in Nijmegen, so I’m here to stay!

How have you experienced working and living in Nijmegen?

There are many reasons why I chose to be at Radboud University, but the most important one is that I share the same values. Here, giving back to the people is very important. You can see this in the societally relevant research initiatives, the many cultural events and the fact that sustainability is embedded in all study programmes. The focus on human values also creates a sense of community for employees. We’re all on the same team and strive for shared goals and values. It’s a feeling that I haven’t experienced elsewhere. Academia can be hierarchical and competitive, but the atmosphere here is friendly and informal.

I feel respected and recognised as an international because of the great level of English at Radboud University and in Nijmegen.

Giulio Mecacci praat tegen iemand uit beeld

Nijmegen as a city is also amazing. You’re away from the hecticness of the Randstad and surrounded by nature, but there are still plenty of things to do. One thing I’ve never experienced before is that the residents are very interested in our research. For example, I recently spoke at a café on a Monday evening. Since it was Monday I didn’t expect many people, but in the end it was so crowded there barely were enough chairs. Additionally, I feel respected and recognised as an international because of the great level of English at Radboud University and in Nijmegen. The environment at the Donders Institute is very international, but practically every citizen speaks perfect English and is willing to help me out with my very slowly improving Dutch. Having lived in some other European cities, the internationally friendly and welcoming vibe here is unique.

How would you describe your work environment?

I really love the central campus at Radboud University. All the buildings are within walking distance of each other, which stimulates interdisciplinary collaboration. The green environment gives me the opportunity to go out for a walk during my work days. There’s even a stretch of forest at the edge of campus, where I can really relax and let go of my thoughts. I also can’t forget about the CultuurCafé, the on-campus bar where we go every Thursday with many from the AI department. I love that there’s an accessible hub where I have the opportunity to get to know my colleagues better every week. I came to Radboud University because of the human-centred research and expertise, but I stayed because of the supportive environment, the green campus and the welcoming city.”