Pre­vent­ing sui­cides with AI

The Week (US) - - News 19 -

Most peo­ple who think about killing them­selves never re­veal their plans to any­one, mak­ing sui­ci­dal be­hav­ior ex­tremely dif­fi­cult to pre­dict or pre­vent. But a new study sug­gests ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence could ad­dress this prob­lem, through brain scans that ef­fec­tively pre­dict who is most likely to at­tempt sui­cide. Re­searchers have de­vel­oped a ma­chine-learn­ing al­go­rithm that uses brain scans to iden­tify those with sui­ci­dal thoughts. They tested the tech­nol­ogy on 34 young adults, in­clud­ing 17 who had a his­tory of sui­ci­dal thoughts or be­hav­ior. The par­tic­i­pants were shown 30 words as their brains were scanned: Some were re­lated to sui­cide, such as “death”; oth­ers were feel­ings, such as “des­per­ate” and “care­free.” By an­a­lyz­ing brain pat­terns, the al­go­rithm was able to dis­tin­guish be­tween the peo­ple who had con­sid­ered sui­cide and those who had not with 91 per­cent ac­cu­racy, re­ports. Lead au­thor Mar­cel Just, a cog­ni­tive neu­ro­sci­en­tist at Carnegie Mel­lon Univer­sity, says, “There re­ally is a dif­fer­ence in the way [sui­ci­dal] peo­ple think about cer­tain con­cepts.”

re­ports After con­sid­er­ing vari­ables such as the par­tic­i­pants’ age, ed­u­ca­tion, and whether they smoked, they found that the men who fre­quently ate alone were 45 per­cent more likely to be obese and 64 per­cent more likely to de­velop meta­bolic syn­drome—a clus­ter of risk fac­tors as­so­ci­ated with heart dis­ease, di­a­betes, and stroke. The women who of­ten ate solo had a 29 per­cent greater risk for the con­di­tion. One pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion: lone­li­ness. Those who ate alone tended to be sin­gle and live on their own. “Who wants to cook a whole meal for one?” says An­drew Abeyta, a psy­chol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Rut­gers. “Peo­ple who eat alone are more likely to eat un­healthy fast food or foods that, like frozen or boxed foods, are quick to pre­pare.” So­cial iso­la­tion also ex­ac­er­bates the ef­fects of stress, which in­creases the risk for heart dis­ease and other health is­sues.

re­lieve chest pain. They then had an op­er­a­tion to have a stent in­serted—but only some ac­tu­ally had the de­vice fit­ted. When the re­searchers ex­am­ined the pa­tients six weeks later, both groups said they had less chest pain and showed sim­i­lar lev­els of im­prove­ment on tread­mill tests. Car­di­ol­o­gists said one rea­son stents might not be ef­fec­tive—ex­cept as place­bos—is be­cause block­ages oc­cur in many other blood ves­sels be­sides the artery. Some sci­en­tists down­played the study, ar­gu­ing that the as­sess­ment pe­riod should have been longer. But oth­ers said a pro­ce­dure as in­va­sive as stent­ing should be used only to clear ex­treme block­ages dur­ing heart at­tacks. “For some­one who puts in stents,” says Brah­ma­jee Nal­lamothu, a car­di­ol­o­gist at the Univer­sity of Michi­gan, “it’s a very hum­bling study.”

Brain scans can ‘read’ peo­ple’s sui­ci­dal thoughts.

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