Artificial intelligence (AI) scours updates on China's social network Weibo, searches for people who are suicidal and connects them with psychologists.
Wang Le's bedroom was dark and quiet. The only sound comes from mouse clicks and keyboard. He could not live and work like a normal person for nearly a decade due to social fear, the Internet is the only connection he has to the outside world. It even saved his life.
Wang's relatives bring food to the gate once every two weeks or two because he cannot order by phone. In the spring, he tried to kill himself but failed. Scared to death, but did not dare to live, he shared on Weibo and received a message from a stranger shortly after. "Are you ok? Do you want to talk to me? ”
In his late 20s, Wang lived alone in a small town in Northern China. His parents are working in the city. The message touched him knowing that someone in the world still cares about him.
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Since then, Wang has been friends with strangers - essentially a psychologist. She found Wang with the help of the Tree Hole bot, an AI program that detected suicidal intent on Weibo and alerted a group of nearly 600 scholars, counselors, and volunteers.
Launched in July 2018, according to Huang Zhisheng - program founder and senior artificial intelligence specialist at Vrije University - the group has prevented more than 1,000 suicides. Because the group is small and not-for-profit, they can only handle emergencies, some of which are beyond their reach.
The bot is named Tree Hole because it scans articles that reveal secret secrets on social networks. One of the most famous "tree holes" articles was in 2012, posted by a depressed girl before committing suicide. Users can still comment on this article and so far there have been over 1 million comments.
In China, at least 136,000 people committed suicide in 2016, accounting for 17% of all suicides worldwide, according to data from WHO. Suicide is the second most common cause of death among people aged 15 to 29, according to WHO. The World Health Organization predicts that 1.5 million people will commit suicide next year.
Although research shows that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is for people to talk to people who really care about them, people like Wang not only lack support from their families, they also live in small cities. , no opportunity or limited access to psychological services. For them, AI technology plays a fundamental role in connecting lonely souls with experts.
In the world, giants such as Google, Facebook, Pinterest also use AI to track the user's risk of suicide, identify suicide / self-hurt content. However, there are limitations when using AI.
Tree Hole automatically scans Weibo every 4 hours, marking articles containing words / phrases such as "death", "liberation from life", "ending the world". Bots are programmed based on conceptual charts, suicidal expressions, semantic analysis to understand if "not wanted" and "live" are in the same sentence that may suggest suicidal tendencies.
In contrast, Facebook trains AI suicide prevention algorithms with millions of real-life cases. Between April and June, social networks processed more than 1.5 million suicidal and self-harming content, more than 95% of which were discovered before someone reported it.
According to Huang, the accuracy of Tree Hole - now in the 6th generation - hits 82%. A number of foreign universities have invited Huang to collaborate and expand the bot internationally.
Track and store mental health data without the user's consent, causing privacy concerns. In the case of Tree Hole, it only tracks Weibo - an open platform. In addition, saving lives is considered a higher priority than protecting privacy.
Huang classifies suicidal essays into 10 levels, the highest level requiring urgent action because they contain detailed information such as time, location, methods. Only posts from level 5 and above are reported to the group. The peak hour for such articles from 10 pm to 2 am, 3/4 of the posting is female.
Wang kept in touch with the psychological counseling from the Tree Hole team to ease the suffering that often came back. Li Jiayi, one of the people contacting Wang, said she had at least 20 such shifts and was always busy with a full-time job.
Huang is developing a chat bot, hoping to communicate with humans similar to real experts. The bot will be programmed to respond properly to sensitive people. However, from the perspective of psychological evaluation, online chat is not as effective as face-to-face counseling because they can look at the expressions and movements of the opposite person.
So scientists have developed AI that can detect depressed people by scanning their faces. A team at Stanford University led by Fei-Fei-Li designed a diagnostic system, combining 3D face recognition and natural language processing technology, to an accuracy of 88.3%.