Chinese Researchers Use Artificial Intelligence To Identify People With Suicidal Thoughts

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Chinese researchers are trying to prevent suicides in the country by using artificial intelligence (AI) technology. These researchers have created an AI system that can identify people expressing suicidal thoughts on the popular microblogging website, Weibo.

Every year, nearly 800,000 people commit suicide worldwide, and more than 60 percent of these cases are reported from Asia. In Hong Kong, suicide is the chief cause of death for youths, according to South China Morning Post.

Some recent studies have found that young people spending more time on social media are more likely to express their mental health problems on such platforms. In particular, one study observed that about 15 percent of the students who committed suicide had already expressed their distress and suicidal thoughts on social media.

Zhu Tingshao, a researcher from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, reveals that just one-fifth of the people with suicidal thoughts seek help from the counseling centers and hotlines that are established to help them, and therefore, it is important to carry out web-based research on this issue.

According to Xinhua News, Zhu’s team collected language patterns from more than 4,000 microbloggers who had earlier expressed suicidal thoughts on Weibo. These language patterns were then fed into the AI system to enable it to identify similar patterns on Weibo. The team also created a special AI account on Weibo. This AI account scans thousands of messages on the social network and identifies people expressing suicidal thoughts. The account then sends direct messages to them and advises them to refrain from taking any extreme step. The account maintains the privacy of the users while providing them proper counseling. Since July 2016, this system has offered online counseling to more than 20,000 users who were struggling with suicidal thoughts.

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“We need to track the troubled souls first and detect how urgent their psychological situation is. For those who have strong tendencies, we tell them what their problems might be and send them a list of hotlines and professional intervention centers,” said Zhu.

This is, however, not the first instance of researchers using AI to prevent suicides. Facebook is already using a similar AI system to identify users expressing an inclination towards suicide on its platform.

According to CTVNews, the federal government in Canada has offered a pilot project to Ottawa-based Advanced Symbotics Inc., to use AI technology to understand warning signs for suicides and to identify suicide “hot spots” across the country.

In this AI project, researchers will not focus on individuals or any particular group in Canada. Instead, they will create randomized samples of social media users from all regions in the country, including indigenous communities to understand precursors to suicide. In 2017, a large number of people had committed suicides in several high profile “hot spots,” including northern communities and regions like Cape Breton.