back to article A-high: Prototype drug squad bot to patrol Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, etc for dodgy ads for opioids

Drug dealers and dodgy pharmacies illegally touting opioids online – think heroin, fentanyl, codeine, morphine, and so on – may have their collars felt by an AI cop soon. Ish. Maybe. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded a contract worth $224,864 (£172,000) to S-3 Research, a startup spun out of the …

  1. simonb_london

    Simpler solution : Post adverts for ibogain treatment

    So much effort to fight a war on drugs where the a possible cure for the addictive illegal drugs just happens to be the non-addictive illegal drugs.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Simpler solution : Post adverts for ibogain treatment

      What you do not know is that I've spent years cultivating an immunity to ibogain powder.

      Mine's the one with the copy of The Princess Bride on VHS wedged into coat pocket, thanks.

    2. teknopaul Silver badge

      Re: Simpler solution : Post adverts for ibogain treatment

      You assume a oulution is sought by the powers that be. The US developed an opium addiction shortly after the CIA started operations in Afganistan.

      Jus sayin.

  2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

    "At the moment, the tool is about 70 to 80 per cent accurate"

    And the problem with that is ? If you get rid of 70% of illegal drug posts, that will be an enormous blow to the criminals' revenue, won't it ?

    So get on with it already. You can increase the accuracy while you go.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: "At the moment, the tool is about 70 to 80 per cent accurate"

      The problem is the non-AI version of the code with a big IF statement is more accurate.

    2. katrinab Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: "At the moment, the tool is about 70 to 80 per cent accurate"

      You also get 20%-30% of the posts that have nothing at all to do with drugs dealing.

      If for example, 1% of all posts were related to drug dealing:

      For every 1000 suspects it returns, 7 will be actually related to drug dealing, and 300 will be false positives.

      If for example, 1 in 1,000,000 posts were related to drug dealing, which is probably closer to reality:

      for every 10,000,000 posts return, 7 will be related to drug dealing, and 3,000,000,000 will be false positives. Or to put it another way, 70% accuracy is not meaningfully better than picking posts at random.

      1. overunder Silver badge

        Re: "At the moment, the tool is about 70 to 80 per cent accurate"

        "You also get 20%-30% of the posts that have nothing at all to do with drugs dealing."

        No, you get 100% of those. Spies go undercover. What you do get 20%-30% of is those ads planted by the spies themselves.

  3. Chris G Silver badge

    Another simple solution

    Well partly, would be to no longer have US Marines and British forces protecting poppy fields in Afghanistan.

    A place where currently, 80-90% of the raw opium is produced.

    When the Vietnam war spilled over illegally into the neighbouring countries that were part of the lod Golden triangle, Air Anerica was flying the stuff to Western markets.

    Cui Bono?

  4. israel_hands

    How High?

    “We use natural language processing models to look for words like 'buy,' 'sell,' 'discount,' or if there is a phone number or hyperlink included,"

    AI involvement why? Don't see anything there that can't be accomplished by running some basic RegEx against the posts, with regular updates to the dictionary to take into account new terms being used.

    Or is it just that governments are unlikely to spunk millions on a basic search function unless it's packaged in the emporer's current latest non-photon blocking fashion?

    Maybe if they could have crowbarred blockchain in they'd have even more funding.

    1. Sgt_Oddball Silver badge

      Re: How High?

      That's what they're paying for... Someone who can remember how to regex on a frequent basis instead of the usual

      1. Find issue regex can solve

      2. Spend hour(s) re-learning regex

      3. Test it

      4. Swear

      5. Spend another hour debugging

      6. Success!

      7. Rinse, wash and repeat in 6 months.

  5. Cuddles Silver badge

    Relevance?

    "If deals are discussed in private messages on Facebook, though, for example, the machine-learning model, which leafs through public posts, will miss all that chatter."

    And how exactly does a bot trawling through public posts address that? Note I don't say "address that problem", because the fact that random people trawling through internet comments aren't able to see private messages is in fact the whole point of the word "private", and not a problem that actually needs addressing. I'm sure various government TLAs would disagree on that point, but I don't see how it's relevant given the subject of the article.

    1. iron Silver badge

      Re: Relevance?

      It addresses that by tweeting that Tim Apple must "stop encryption to make Amurica grate agin!"

  6. Version 1.0 Silver badge

    Wait a moment

    Instagram, Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube are far more addictive than opiods and have caused more damage to modern society than any drug in history.

  7. Khaptain Silver badge

    Local GPs are probably the largest problem

    From whart I have understood, local GPs prescrbinh opiods is a far greater, but less mediatised, problem. Obviously the legal drug companies don't want the war on drugs to actually hit the true target.

    1. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
      Joke

      Re: Local GPs are probably the largest problem

      So, uh, where can I find one of these GPs? Asking for a friend.

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Local GPs are probably the largest problem

      mediatised

      Mediatised? Give me a break. There are perfectly good words already for that sort of thing ("publicised" or "broadcast" would do for starters) without someone mangling vaguely-comprehended words together into verbal gibberish..

  8. Alistair Silver badge
    Windows

    Cycle begins again

    Its been used for the last 50 odd years in NA, and it seems that they might not get another 'war in a shithole' this year, so I suppose we should expect the 'war on drugs' to spin back up. Either that or one of the contenders in Libya will come up with six or seven million dollars worth of hardware and spin that one into the next delivery of democracy in the 'Far East'.

    (/me rereads that. Holy crap I'm getting horribly cynical and crusty)

    1. Khaptain Silver badge

      Re: Cycle begins again

      (/me rereads that. Holy crap I'm getting horribly cynical and crusty)

      A couple of years in El Reg forums will do that to anyone, only the lucky escape...

    2. CrazyOldCatMan Silver badge

      Re: Cycle begins again

      I'm getting horribly cynical and crusty

      Welcome to the Real World (TM). You have nothing to lose apart from your optimism, youth and cheerfulness.

      Oh - and sleep.

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