to expand artificial intelligence to help prevent suicide
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[November 28, 2017] By
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc will
expand its pattern recognition software to other countries after
successful tests in the U.S. to detect users with suicidal intent, the
world's largest social media network said on Monday.
Facebook began testing the software in the United States in March,
when the company started scanning the text of Facebook posts and
comments for phrases that could be signals of an impending suicide.
Facebook has not disclosed many technical details of the program,
but the company said its software searches for certain phrases that
could be clues, such as the questions "Are you ok?" and "Can I
If the software detects a potential suicide, it alerts a team of
Facebook workers who specialize in handling such reports. The system
suggests resources to the user or to friends of the person such as a
telephone help line. Facebook workers sometimes call local
authorities to intervene.
Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president for product management, said
the company was beginning to roll out the software outside the
United States because the tests have been successful. During the
past month, he said, first responders checked on people more than
100 times after Facebook software detected suicidal intent.
Facebook said it tries to have specialist employees available at any
hour to call authorities in local languages.
"Speed really matters. We have to get help to people in real time,"
Last year, when Facebook launched live video broadcasting, videos
proliferated of violent acts including suicides and murders,
presenting a threat to the company's image. In May Facebook said it
would hire 3,000 more people to monitor videos and other content.
Rosen did not name the countries where Facebook was deploying the
software, but he said it would eventually be used worldwide except
in the European Union due to sensitivities, which he declined to
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Other tech firms also try to prevent suicides. Google's search
engine displays the phone number for a suicide hot line in response
to certain searches.
Facebook knows lots about its 2.1 billion users - data that it uses
for targeted advertising - but in general the company has not been
known previously to systematically scan conversations for patterns
of harmful behavior.
One exception is its efforts to spot suspicious conversations
between children and adult sexual predators. Facebook sometimes
contacts authorities when its automated screens pick up
But it may be more difficult for tech firms to justify scanning
conversations in other situations, said Ryan Calo, a University of
Washington law professor who writes about tech.
"Once you open the door, you might wonder what other kinds of things
we would be looking for," Calo said.
Rosen declined to say if Facebook was considering pattern
recognition software in other areas, such as non-sex crimes.
(Reporting by David Ingram; Editing by Susan Thomas)
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