China develops AI software to help suicidal people

Updated 2018-02-09 10:45:07

Experts point out limitations of AI software used to help suicidal people

Artificial intelligence (AI) software developed by Chinese researchers has sent out 20,000 private messages to help potentially suicidal people, while experts said AI is still no replacement for face-to-face psychological intervention.

"The software can identify those who have suicide ideation expressed in their microblog posts, and then send out a private message providing the necessary support and help," Zhu Tingshao, a research fellow at the Institute of Psychology of Chinese Academy of Sciences, where the software was developed, told the Global Times on Thursday.

According to Zhu, the messages contain comforting words as well as links to professional websites and hotline numbers they can turn to for help.

The software has been in use on Weibo since July 2017 and has sent messages to over 20,000 people who are deemed to be contemplating suicide.

"Data indicates that among all the people we sent private messages to, about 30 to 40 percent did go to the websites we provided, though very few of them responded to our private messages on Weibo," Zhu said.

If the messages do get a response, professional psychological counselors are ready to talk to tem and provide assistance, according to Zhu.

The issue of psychological intervention came under the spotlight after a well-known 35-year-old IT entrepreneur committed suicide at home in Beijing on January 25 without leaving a note.

Zhu said that his team is next planning to expand the software's application to other social media such as online forums in order to cover more people in need.

"It is still very difficult for AI to replace the help provided by real people , but it works well as a supplementary tool and it can promptly identify people in need," Zhu said.

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