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AI To Reduce Youth Suicide?

In suicide prevention literature, “gatekeepers” are community members who may be able to offer help when someone expresses suicidal thoughts. It’s a loose designation, but it generally includes teachers, parents, coaches, and older coworkers—anyone with some form of authority and ability to intervene when they see something troubling. 

Could this now be a role for Google. In May, Google granted $1.5 million to the Trevor Project, a California-based non-profit that offers crisis counseling to LGBT teenagers via a phone line (TrevorLifeline), texting service (TrevorText), and an instant-messaging platform (TrevorChat). 

Eventually, the nonprofit’s leaders want an AI system that will predict what resources youths will need—housing, coming-out help, therapy—all by scanning the first few messages in a chat. Long term, they hope to evolve the AI so it can recognize patterns in metadata beyond just scanning initial messages. For example, if the AI could determine reading or education level from the messages, could it make inferences about how structural factors affect suicide risk? It seems impossible that following a tangling field of “if...then” statements could save someone’s life, but soon enough, it could.

Overall, a very important investment that could save many lives whilst showing the strengths nonprofits can have in creating social change and producing jobs - see those here.