According to the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention, approximately 11 people commit suicide in Canada every day. Further, around 210 people are estimated to attempt suicide in the country on a daily basis. Meanwhile, the Canadian Mental Health Association says at least one in five Canadians will personally experience a mental health-related problem or illness in any given year.
To help reduce such numbers, the Government of Canada is partnering with the Ottawa-based artificial intelligence and market research firm Advanced Symbolics to use AI to monitor social media and identify possible spikes in suicide.
The federal government says it will work with Advanced Symbolics to define “suicide-related behaviour” on social media and “use that classifier to conduct market research on the general population of Canada.”
While phone surveys typically poll around 1,500 people, Advanced Symbolics says that it can reach a sample size of over 160,000 Canadian social media accounts. As a result, the company says it is able to get results that normal research wouldn’t be able to. “We’re the only research firm in the world that was able to accurately predict Brexit, the Hillary and Trump election, and the Canadian election of 2015,” CEO Erin Kelly told CBC News.
Advanced Symbolics says that AI could offer a two- to three-month warning before a spike in suicide occurs, giving government officials an opportunity to reach out with mental health resources ahead of any incident.
Advanced Symbolics also said its AI solutions only look for social media trends on public posts, not individual users’ cases.”It’d be a bit freaky if we built something that monitors what everyone is saying and then the government contacts you and said, ‘Hi, our computer AI has said we think you’re likely to kill yourself’,” Kenton White, chief scientist with Advanced Symbolics, told CBC News.
According to Advanced Symbolics, AI will instead flag communities or regions where multiple suicides are likely. The company cited three suicides on Cape Breton Island last year as an example of a trend its technology would pick up on.
The company says it will begin defining suicide-related behaviour in January, with actual monitoring set to begin later in the year.
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