Federals investing in new pilot project to ID suicide hotspots

Suicide rate is on alarming rise in Canada.With approximately 10 Canadians dying by suicide every day, the federal government is investing in a new pilot project that could one day use artificial intelligence to predict spikes in suicide risk across the country.

Advanced Symbolics Inc., an artificial intelligence service company, is set to begin a pilot project that will scan random samples of social media to try to find the red flags that indicate that a particular area of the country could be headed for a spate of suicides.

The three-month-long pilot will focus on determining if such patterns can be identified at all. If that is successful, the federal government will then determine whether to move ahead with beginning regional suicide surveillance.

The project, expected to start in early February, will begin by examining previous suicide hot spots to look for patterns, explained the chief scientist with Advanced Symbolics, Kenton White.

White said, “We’re taking past data from areas that have had high incidents of suicide and we’re looking to see if we can detect behaviours or patterns that led up to those tragedies.”

White stressed the system is not designed to identify individuals who want to kill themselves; instead, the system is focused on regions where suicides are most likely, using randomly chosen samples of social media in the search.

White says, at this point, it’s not clear what red flags the system will look for; that’s exactly what the pilot project phase will work to identify.

He said that maintaining privacy is a paramount concern which is why his company uses tools similar to what the federal government uses with census data to ensure privacy.

White concedes that even the greatest suicide predictor tool in the world will not be enough to prevent deaths, if there aren’t enough resources to help communities struggling with depression, substance abuse, and other problems that lead to suicide.