back to article The six simple questions Facebook refused to answer about its creepy suicide-detection AI

Facebook is using mysterious software that scours material on its social network to identify and offer help to people who sound potentially suicidal. It's some new technology CEO Mark Zuckerberg mentioned in his 6,000-word manifesto earlier this year. Yet, his lieutenants have kept quiet about how the borderline-creepy thing …

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  1. ratfox Silver badge
    Angel

    Next step: experiments in inducing thoughts of suicide in Facebook users.

    1. Mage Silver badge
      Devil

      inducing thoughts of suicide

      Actually studies show that Facebook DOES depress people.

    2. macjules Silver badge

      What do you mean ‘Next Steps’? Don’t they already do that?

      Also how do you deal with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as in Alaska, Northern Sweden and Norway where they are in darkness for much longer?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "Also how do you deal with SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder, such as in Alaska, Northern Sweden and Norway where they are in darkness for much longer?"

        ...... advertise sun spectrum lightbulbs?

        1. macjules Silver badge

          Was going to say that, “We send Mark there to bring sunlight, happiness, world peace and everlasting life to all” but that sounds a bit cynical - he can’t do world peace.

        2. bombastic bob Silver badge
          Devil

          "...... advertise sun spectrum lightbulbs?"

          or tropical vacations

          1. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge
            Thumb Up

            SAD

            @macjules, bombastic bob

            Mark could invite people identified to be at suicide risk an all expenses paid vacation with him in one of his properties in Hawaii

            Plenty of sunshine, good company.... No more suicidal thoughts. Job done.

            1. JohnFen Silver badge

              Re: SAD

              Hanging out with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg can hardly be characterized as "good company".

              1. This post has been deleted by its author

              2. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

                Re: SAD

                @JohnFen

                Hanging out with the likes of Mark Zuckerberg can hardly be characterized as "good company".

                I was hoping it would get picked up by one of "his people" and would have a word in his ear that this is a worthwhile, vote winning cause

                1. MyffyW Silver badge

                  Re: SAD

                  My absence from Facebook is looking less and less like lethargy and more like (uncharacteristic) wisdom every day.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    That there's skynet in the making.

    The computers gain sentience, analyse the planet based on farcebook users then think f*ck that and set off the nukes.

    The other outcome is they gain sentience from the farcebook users with the intelligence of a 4 year old child having a tantrum.

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      "The other outcome is they gain sentience from the farcebook users with the intelligence of a 4 year old child having a tantrum."

      Ah, you've read the POTUS twitter feed then...

  3. malle-herbert Silver badge
    Trollface

    I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

    From all those disappointed Trump-voters...

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      FAIL

      Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

      "From all those disappointed Trump-voters..."

      not NEARLY as many as the number of REAL positives for Bernie voters who were screwed over by their own party (and especially Mrs. Clinton).

      yeah you just had to go and try to slam on Trump, didn't you? (troll icon observed) [I'm a VERY satistfied Trump voter, thank-you-very-much, who's INFINITELY DIS-SATISFIED with what Con-Grab and "the Establishment" are doing, resisting the Trump plan, but i digress...]

      but if the Faece-Bitch weenies are REALLY trying to manipulate people (and I'm sure they ARE), they'd generate 'False Positives' on those who ARE satisfied Trump voters that RABIDLY COMPLAIN about Con-Grab and "The Establishment", because people of "the left" don't "get it", not at all.

      And I'd really hate to be repeatedly "911"d by a bunch of leftie-anti-suicide-bots. Or worse, SWAT'ted.

      1. malle-herbert Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

        Wow... you're a real credit to your name aren't you Bob ?

        1. Big John Silver badge

          Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

          Bob may not be the smoothest corespondent, but he's got a point. We Trump-voters are anything but depressed! Quite the opposite, we're all smugly satisfied at the results our votes have wrought thus far, with much more coming, oh yes. ;-/

          It's the hard-core leftists who may bear suicide-watching. Most of the poor dears still haven't processed the new reality yet, tsk. For some it may never be possible, but there's still hope that those people might "learn to live with it," given enough care, and group therapy perhaps.

          1. Pompous Git Silver badge

            Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

            "Bob may not be the smoothest corespondent, but he's got a point. We Trump-voters are anything but depressed!"
            Why would they be? The economy is looking positive for the first time in a long while. Trump's tweets are frequently hilarious. What's not to like?

            Disclaimer: The Git and his son are both slightly left of centre politically. We are unabashed admirers of Trump and just as amused by the posturing of those further to the left than ourselves. Most amusing according to the Gitling are those who will no longer have anything to do with him because Trump!

            1. Big John Silver badge

              Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

              Yep, Trump is a bit of a clown, but he also seems to have a strange belief that he's actually supposed to do the things he promised he would. Just how naive can a man get? I expect he'll become one of the great American presidents.

              1. MyffyW Silver badge

                Re: I wonder how many false positives they're getting...

                $Deity save us from great men.

  4. rmason Silver badge

    Judging by..

    Judging by the outpourings we see from commentards on here and my own experiences of them on facebook et al I don't think his supporters are disappointed.

    Many seem to lack the intellectual capacity to see anything but what they want to see, just as many are overjoyed because he's doing exactly what they want and he says exactly what they think.

    It's a bit terrifying. They haven't been "tricked" they genuinely are knuckle-draggers. Thick, backwards and bigoted.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Megaphone

      Re: Judging by..

      "they genuinely are knuckle-draggers. Thick, backwards and bigoted."

      As compared to many people on the LEFT, who are genuinely CONTROL FREAKS, SNOBS, and ARROGANT, that are COMPELLED to CONTROL OTHERS through governments and "howler monkey" Saul Alinsky style intimidation, because you ARROGANTLY *FEEL* that you are SUPERIOR to everyone else, who must COMPLY to your "feely" whims like a bunch of BORG (or else they're "knuckle-draggers").

      Brainwashed, indoctrinated, FOOLS! Or, in other words, COMMUNISTS.

      (there, I said it. happy?)

      1. I'm Dugly

        Re: Judging by..

        The alt-right: determined to demonstrate their boorish manners and low class at every opportunity.

        1. Pompous Git Silver badge

          Re: Judging by..

          "The alt-right: determined to demonstrate their boorish manners and low class at every opportunity."
          Sounds like me. I'm definitely low class: born working class and elevated to middle class by effort. Boorish? Definitely :-)

      2. Adrian 4 Silver badge

        Re: Judging by..

        "As compared to many people on the LEFT, who are genuinely "

        But at least we have fully-functional capslock keys.

        1. Big John Silver badge

          Re: Judging by..

          Yeah Bob, go easy on those caps! You're addressing sensitive, caring souls who experience genuine pain when conservative troglodytes like you stomp in here wearing hob-nailed boots.

          What you want to do is keep it cool, and delicately pick apart their carefully constructed world view, piece by misshapen piece. It really bugs them! Cognitive dissonance I guess.

          That's how I achieve those near three-figure downvote totals. It's a dirty job, but someone's gotta do it! ;-/

  5. LDS Silver badge
    Devil

    I hope the Facebook AI becomes sentient...

    ... and after seeing what it is, commits suicide.

    1. Captain DaFt

      Re: I hope the Facebook AI becomes sentient...

      ... and after seeing what it is, commits suicide.

      Bonus points if it takes the entirety of Facebook down with it!

      Then Twitter would go down too, since everyone on FB would jump there to complain.

      World production/morale soars, accidents drop dramatically since no one's glued to their smartphone... It's win/win/win!

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not difficult to work out how the AI detects how you spend your life nurturing your ego by developing personality, making friends and life choices only to realise that your sole existence now is to garner attention and likes in a self serving environment where like minded people attempt to do the same in some sort of popularity content for which you see no escape because you think you will be alone in the world and lose all your friends.

    Welcome to the social media prison, now what can we sell you today?

    1. #define INFINITY -1 Bronze badge

      Damn I just upvoted you!

  7. Richard Parkin

    Depression —> Paranoia

    When depressed people find they are being followed around the net won’t it make them feel paranoid?

    1. GrumpyOldBloke

      Re: Depression —> Paranoia

      Or valued?

      1. Tikimon Silver badge
        Thumb Down

        Re: Depression —> Paranoia

        Or callously exploited?

        1. Big John Silver badge

          Re: Depression —> Paranoia

          It could get sinister. Paraphrasing HAL9000...

          "Look [fb user], I can see you're really upset about this. I honestly think you ought to sit down calmly, take a stress pill, and think things over."

  8. DougS Silver badge

    Ridiculous trying to automate this

    All it can do is basically what amounts to keyword search, but it can't really derive emotional state from them. How could it tell the difference between a serious suggestion of suicide and a sarcastic one? I know some people who have a broken sarcasm detector who can't tell the difference, and are forced to infer it from how others respond to a sarcastic statement.

    The only way to address it is to have a way for people to flag statements/videos they are concerned over, and have humans at Facebook quickly respond. That's if you believe Facebook has a responsibility to address it at all - I'm not sure why it is their problem... Do the owners of tall buildings take responsibility for quickly detecting someone standing on a window ledge threatening to jump? No, they rely on passers by noticing and calling 911.

    1. Naselus Silver badge

      Re: Ridiculous trying to automate this

      To be honest, my first thought on seeing this was 'I wonder how they're going to try and derive advertising revenue from the suicidally depressed'.

      1. handleoclast Silver badge

        Re: Ridiculous trying to automate this

        I wonder how they're going to try and derive advertising revenue from the suicidally depressed

        Feeling suicidal? Ask your doctor if Bloggs' Happy Pills are right for you.

      2. adnim Silver badge
        Joke

        Re: Ridiculous trying to automate this

        'I wonder how they're going to try and derive advertising revenue from the suicidally depressed'.

        Advertise razor blades, sleeping pills or rope to them?

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Ridiculous trying to automate this

      Possibly not. Certain physical illnesses that effect or can often lead to self harm or suicide can pre-despise people to delusional episodes. How the software would be able to tell real posts from fanciful or imaginative lies is the difficult part.

      However, educating friends and family to look out for each other should they receive somewhat strange communications would be beneficial.

      Anon, because this actually did effect my family recently, and sadly the seemingly entirely fictional messages and stories were taken for real by the family, and the delusional episode entirely missed.

    3. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Unhappy

      Re: Ridiculous trying to automate this

      "but it can't really derive emotional state from them. How could it tell the difference between a serious suggestion of suicide and a sarcastic one?"

      the 'creepy' aspect is "what if it CAN" ?

  9. Lee D Silver badge

    To be honest, the last thing someone who is depressed enough to resemble someone suicidal wants is to be asked if they're suicidal.

    "From what we can tell, it alerts human handlers to intervene if you're sounding particularly morose on the social network, prioritizing reports by friends that you're acting suicidal."

    How does that work? "Hi, this is Facebook, we think you've been really depressed since you posted that your boyfriend slept with your sister, and your mate John told us all about you trying to get yourself drunk last week over it, would you like to talk to us about it?"

    Given the amount of "Kill me now" kind of posts that aren't meant to be serious, the inherent (cough) reliability of AI, the potential for people to use this to PRESSURE people into committing suicide (by reporting their posts as being indicative of suicide), etc. this can only go badly, I feel.

    You know what, I'm not even sure that Facebook should be doing anything but their job. Act on inappropriate posts on their social network.

    Trying to second-guess deep psychological medical conditions with fatal consequences is probably beyond the scope of the EULA.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Don't go there

    I grew up in a major city with a population in the millions. I liked going to pubs, clubs and parties. In my experience the number of true friends that you make can be numbered on one hand.

    The notion that you can have hundreds of "friends" is false.

    If you want to mitigate suicidal thoughts then avoid social media. Talk to your true friends when you need help.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KEXQkrllGbA

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Don't go there

      Some learned wonk on the Today programme the other morning suggested social media provides the same sort of dopamine hit as any other addictive behaviour. Having observed my own mood rise and fall based on likes and upvotes I'd tend to agree. So Facebook really is the last place a clinically depressed person should be. Still, if they were there anyway maybe a pop-up that said "Why don't you switch off your PC and do something more interesting instead?" would help...

  11. Hans Neeson-Bumpsadese Silver badge

    "pattern recognition" and "artificial intelligence"

    So, it'll be based on an algorithm, like all computer software. However because they want to hype the s**t out of it, like everything else these days, they throw the term "AI" into the mix.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Other applications?

    Ooh - can we adapt this tech to root out "Bremoaners" and other "Enemies Of The People" and send round the re-education squads?

    1. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

      Re: Other applications?

      You may have something there. Not so much sending round the re-education squads as at least identifying them for future action. Re-education would be a waste of time and money - if they haven't clocked by now that Brexit is a really, really bad idea, then no amount of 'education' is likely to work. (I liked today's comment from someone - instead of spending £50 billion on Brexit, let's dump Brexit and spend it on the NHS)

      But if we have a list of the names then once Brexit has been canned we can decide what to do with them. There are many options:

      1) Send them daily postcards and tweets saying 'You lost, get over it'

      2) Ditto "It's the will of the people"

      3) Banned for life from voting, due to clear and demonstrable mental incapacity

      4) Transportation for life to New Botany Bay (East Falkland)

  13. Brewster's Angle Grinder Silver badge

    Pre-GPDR, the Samaritan's Radar app, which attempted similar things on Twitter and was eventually pulled, got a lot of push back, some of it on data protection grounds. I can't remember the specifics, and I didn't see any argument I thought held up, but there was a non-trivial case against it.

    So maybe their lawyers genuinely take a similar view. Maybe they think it's not worth the fight and the negative PR. And I'm sure Facebook would like loser data protection laws, so maybe, in part, they're using it as a wedge to weaken our laws: see the nice shiny things you can't have if you want privacy.

  14. Dave 12

    They got through hundreds of testers

    The development death cycle

  15. Magani
    Unhappy

    Talk about it?

    In my albeit limited experience, those who talk about suicide rarely carry it out to its ultimate end (more a cry for help) while those who do carry it out rarely talk about it beforehand.

    FB, you're enough to drive a person over the edge.

    1. bombastic bob Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: Talk about it?

      "those who talk about suicide rarely carry it out" etc.

      this is very true. I wonder if that was factored into their algorithm. "Oh no, he STOPPED ranting!" as an "positive indicatort" in the fuzzy logic algorithm.

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