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Facebook: New AI could prevent suicides

Facebook says it has successfully tested a computer program that can help keep users from taking their own lives. The social media network now says it will expand the use of the pattern recognition software to other countries.

In a Facebook post this week, Mark Zuckerberg announced the company is deploying artificial intelligence software that will detect possible suicidal intent among users, which it says it built in consultation with suicide prevention groups. The software will use pattern recognition to identify potentially at-risk individuals, and then alert human Facebook staffers, who will assess the situation and contact emergency responders if needed.

“In the last month alone, these A.I. tools have helped us connect with first responders quickly more than 100 times. With all the fear about how A.I. may be harmful in the future, it’s good to remind ourselves how A.I. is actually helping save people’s lives today,” said Zuckerberg. He also added that with a broader range of controls, content will only be taken down if it is more objectionable than the most permissive options allow. “Within that range, content should simply not be shown to anyone whose personal controls suggest they would not want to see it, or at least they should see a warning first. Although we will still block content based on standards and local laws, our hope is that this system of personal controls and democratic referenda should minimize restrictions on what we can share.

Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March. In Europe, however, Facebook won’t be able to offer the service. Strict privacy rules there require that Facebook get express consent from each of its 250 million users in the European Union. New laws coming into effect in 2018 will further restrict the use of AI to give users the right to “insulate themselves from the effect” of Facebook’s new technology.

“We are starting to roll out artificial intelligence outside the US to help identify when someone might be expressing thoughts of suicide, including on Facebook Live,” Guy Rosen, Facebook’s vice president of product management, said in a blog post. “This will eventually be available worldwide, except the EU.”