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Facebook’s New AI Takes On Suicide Prevention Job

Pixabay/Public Domain

There are so many voices in the world demonizing Artificial Intelligence, that sometimes it’s good to remember of all the good things that can come out of this technology. For instance, just recently, Facebook announced it had launched another AI to help prevent suicide.

The company’s efforts to prevent suicide have been going on for years, with the company implementing all sorts of measures to help out those in need, whether they were posting cries for help on the network or videos of themselves speaking about committing suicide. The social network increased the number of employees who were supposed to deal immediately with suicidal users, even call for help from authorities. In fact, the company previously said it had managed to save many lives in this manner, but admitted to also losing many such battles.

“Starting today we’re upgrading our AI tools to identify when someone is expressing thoughts about suicide on Facebook so we can help get them the support they need quickly. In the last month alone, these AI tools have helped us connect with first responders quickly more than 100 times,” Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a Facebook post.

In the same message, the Facebook chief talks about all the fear surrounding the future of Artificial Intelligence. “It’s good to remind ourselves how AI is actually helping save people’s lives today,” he states.

This is a great application of Artificial Intelligence technology, although it may very well be a bit invasive, making us realize that the social network really is looking over everything we type. Of course, this is normal and it’s not something new for Facebook, but we’ve grown so accustomed to using Facebook that it sometimes slips our minds that our every word is analyzed. The difference between the system Facebook had before and the one it has now is that it no longer relies on people reporting posts discussing suicide. This means the company has a lot more time to react and send help, without relying on others to see the content and contact them. Theoretically, the system should be able to go through all the data posted to Facebook by its 2 billion daily users on the go – as soon as someone posts a message, it gets analyzed, which saves a lot of much-needed time for those in need.

On the other hand, suicidal thoughts are something most people consider to be cyber secrets – something they would not want to share with friends or family. Cyber-secret futurist Arthur Keleti would consider this type of secret to be personal, “gray” – neither “white” or “black” in essence. White secrets are those that will not cause major problems, while black secrets are those that could tarnish a person’s reputation. Gray secrets are in-between and they depend on the context – they can incline towards being white when the world around us is accepting, but they can also be black if the norm environment requires is, such as religious rules, for instance.

Often times, loved ones only discover the fact that someone was going through depression only after the deed is done and there’s no going back. For many reasons, people try to keep what they are going through a secret. What Facebook’s AI is doing is going through people’s data and putting two and two together to figure out that someone is thinking of committing suicide.

While this is beneficial, it’s impossible not to think about Gartner’s report saying that by 2020 3 out of 4 of our cyber secrets will be exposed because we will not be able to keep them hidden anymore. Facebook’s AI is aiding in bringing this future closer to us because it does just that – exposing one of our secrets for our greater good.

Responding to one of the comments left on his post, Zuckerberg also admits that Facebook has been using a similar AI to identify terrorist activity and propaganda. Many of the reports the company receives about this type of activity come from its own AI. “I agree this is an important area for development – especially since if a group of terrorists is planning something together, they won’t be likely to report each other to us for review,” Zuckerberg said.

Slowly but surely there will be AIs to track down everything on the Internet. While similar to what the NSA was doing with its mass surveillance programs, this one is a little more broken apart, with each company doing its own investigations.

Arthur Keleti even came up with a proposal in his book “The Imperfect Secret,” that we incorporate an AI into our smartphones. This AI would learn things about us, our habits, our passions, our norms, which would help it determine what type of information we deem to be secret, and what not. Then, if law enforcement, for instance, needs information from that phone, which is otherwise encrypted and inaccessible, the AI could pull up the necessary data. This would not only help us keep our secrets and protect our privacy, but it would also help law enforcement agencies that have been complaining for years about encryption protocols hindering their investigations.

Artificial intelligence will have a progressively more important role in the world around us, including in protecting our privacy.


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