Facebook is stepping up its efforts when it comes to suicide prevention. For proof, look no further than the fact that it will be using AI to notice suicidal thoughts so that the relevant posts can be brought to the attention of human moderators, who will be able to take further action such as either directing the users to helpful resources, directing their friends to helpful resources, or contacting first responders in the case of emergencies. Furthermore, Facebook will be hiring more human moderators as well as providing them with the right training for suicide prevention, which should enable them to make better use of the AI that it has adopted.
How Does the AI Detect Suicidal Thoughts?
Technically, the AI is not a true AI. However, it is an excellent example of how machine learning is being used by more and more parties in more and more contexts. In this case, it learned by looking at posts that had been flagged for suicidal thoughts in a manual manner. Furthermore, it learned to not just look at posts expressing suicidal thoughts but also posts from people expressing concern about those suicidal thoughts, thus ensuring better results than otherwise possible. Over time, it will become better and better at its intended function as it continues to see more and more use.
Should People Be Concerned?
With that said, some people have expressed understandable concerns about the use of Facebook’s new AI. After all, it will be looking at a lot of sensitive information, which is a serious concern for people living in a world where such information has become more and more valuable to not just themselves but also a wide range of other parties. Furthermore, while suicide prevention is a noble goal, it is not difficult to see how something similar could be used for much less pleasant purposes. As a result, it is no wonder that some people have shown a fair amount of unease, which isn’t helped by the fact that Facebook users won’t be able to opt-out. Still, Facebook has acknowledged the seriousness of the potential issues, though that doesn’t change the fact that Facebook users can’t do much about it except hope that Facebook won’t use similar technologies for other less noble purposes.
As for the suicide prevention AI, there can be no doubt about the fact that it will be a beneficial thing. Suicide is a serious problem, which is made all the worse by the fact that suicides happen in clusters. Simply put, while copycat suicides are not as common as some people have feared, they are a real phenomenon. As a result, when someone commits suicide, it is possible that their choice will push other people who are on the edge to commit suicide as well, which is particularly problematic when such incidents happen in public.
Facebook is in an excellent position to help out people with suicidal thoughts. After all, one of the things that are likeliest to stop someone from following through with their suicidal thoughts is support from their friends and family members. Unfortunately, people with suicidal thoughts often have serious problems securing such support from their friends and family members, often because they are hesitant to reach out. Due to the nature of Facebook, it can bring suicidal thoughts on the part of a Facebook user to the attention of the right people before providing said individuals with the resources that they need to make a difference, which could very well save someone’s life in the long run.
Furthermore, the AI will enable Facebook to notice incidents of people committing suicide much faster than what manual reports can manage on their own. This is critical because even a small improvement in speed can provide first responders with a much better chance of saving someone who is attempting to commit suicide. Furthermore, it is important to note that people can get better from suicidal thoughts, meaning that the AI can provide a lot of people with second chances at life.
Summed up, the use of AI is concerning, but this particular use of AI is nothing but promising. It could prove to be a mild nuisance to some people, but considering its upsides, that will be a small price to pay for the lives that it will save.