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AI and CCTV Gain Support in Australia for Suicide Prevention – With Focus on Ethics and Bias

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A new study revealed that the Australian public has expressed broad support for the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and closed-circuit television (CCTV) in suicide prevention research. But concerns about racial bias and the need to incorporate lived experiences highlight the complex ethical landscape surrounding this innovative approach.

The study, conducted by researchers from the Black Dog Institute at the University of New South Wales, involved a survey of 1096 individuals, interviews with people bereaved by suicide, and a focus group with first responders. Findings suggest a general acceptance of using AI and CCTV for suicide prevention, with a significant majority recognising the potential lifesaving benefits of these technologies. The findings were published in the journal American Psychologist.

The ethical implications of using AI and CCTV for such sensitive purposes were a focal point. Participants largely agreed that the benefits of faster emergency responses and a potential reduction in suicide rates justified the use of this technology. However, the study also shed light on the ethical need for respect and privacy, emphasising that the use of AI should comply with privacy laws and have ethical oversight.

A notable concern from the study is the potential racial bias in AI. Respondents from diverse backgrounds expressed worry that AI might reinforce existing societal biases, particularly affecting people of color. This highlights the need for AI systems to be developed with a conscious effort to reduce and eliminate bias.

A key theme that emerged was the importance of including people with lived experience of suicide in developing and implementing these interventions. Participants stressed that their insights are crucial in ensuring that any technological application is sensitive, ethical, and effective.

The focus group with police officers, who are often the first responders in suicide incidents, provided valuable insights. While they saw the utility of AI and CCTV in enhancing their response capabilities, there were concerns about replacing human judgement with technology and the potential for increased false alarms.

The study opens up several avenues for future research, particularly in refining AI algorithms to accurately identify individuals in distress without bias. It also calls for a more coordinated approach involving various stakeholders, including mental health professionals, in responding to potential suicide incidents.

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