AI gives potential suicides pause for thought

2020-03-30 China Daily Editor:Mo Hong'e


A new computer program is helping those weighed down by the mental stress caused by the virus 

"After 10 hours' hard work, I finally adapted Intelligent Agent 001 (a computer program) to collect helpful information about COVID-19 patients. From now on, we will release a daily report on the epidemic," Huang Zhisheng posted on social media on Feb 6.

As an expert in artificial intelligence, Huang, senior researcher at Vrije University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands, has established a group of volunteers, including psychological counselors and medical AI experts, to support critically ill patients who post messages online asking for help.

Intelligent Agent uses algorithms to identify such messages on social media platforms and produce a report that details the subject's name, city, age, specific location, contact number and symptoms.

For example, on Feb 6, Cheng Jiaxin in Wuhan, Hubei province, the city hardest hit by the coronavirus outbreak, posted a plea for assistance.

His father, Cheng Ziguo, had been confirmed as a coronavirus patient, but was unable to obtain treatment because of a shortage of hospital beds. Concerned that his disabled mother might also become infected, Cheng Jiaxin posted his message on Weibo.

The same day, Huang's computer program collected nearly 50 similar messages. By Feb 28, it had released about 410 pieces of information that were shared with the volunteer group or sent to a special column in People's Daily that arranges treatment for infected people.

Other volunteers in the group provide online psychological assistance for medical workers, infected patients or people experiencing anxiety or other negative emotions caused by the epidemic.

By Feb 28, Zhang Zhihan, a counselor in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, had received about 100 calls. Many came from front line medical professionals who were working under huge pressure.

"In one, an ICU doctor in Wuhan expressed the agony he felt. The contradiction between a doctor's responsibilities and his failure to save patients' lives amid the shortage of medical supplies had led to negative feelings," she said.

Some medical workers have questioned the value of their work or expressed doubts about continuing to work as colleagues were becoming infected. Meanwhile, some patients' relatives didn't understand the medics' work, so they complained and humiliated them, she added.

Eventually, the doctor returned to the battle buoyed with new energy and confidence after receiving professional advice from Zhang.

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