I was born in a world surrounded by technology. My school recess was playing basketball on the Wii, memorizing the multiplication table was reaching level 10 in online math games, and putting a song disc in my music player was searching up a song on YouTube.
My name is Alisha Arora and I am an ambitious 15-year-old on the mission to leverage technology to prevent suicide.
In middle school, I always felt distant from technology because in my school STEM was a “boys” thing and the baking and knitting club was for us girls. I remember watching the boys on my robotics team build a massive robot with all their tools and computer codes. That’s when I knew that I wasn’t going to let a “faux pas” stop me from fueling my passion. Adjusting to the male dominated environment was difficult, but not once did I feel out of place. I worked hard to learn programming and helped our team win the national championship. After the competition, one of my team members asked me “Alisha, why do you waste so much time coding when all you're going to be is a housewife?” This shocked me. It was the happiest day of my life and I was right where I belonged, until I wasn’t. In that moment, I could have accepted the societal stigma around gender roles. But the ambitious and determined side of me didn’t let that happen. I promised myself to never take no as an answer and worked even harder for the international championship.
This is when my journey of leveraging technology really began.
A student in my school district took his life 13 minutes after tweeting about feeling lonely. I was so disheartened to lose such an amazing friend. That moment I couldn’t help but think, what if someone saw that tweet? Maybe he could still be here with us today influencing the world the way he was meant to. I couldn’t wait for this to happen to more of my friends for someone to address this issue. How many lives would it take for someone to step up? If I didn’t act now, then who would?
It is easy to know when someone is bleeding and in pain, but to know when someone is suffering mentally is difficult. Which is why the beauty of technology is that immediate action can be taken and these ideations can be interpreted as soon as they are posted.
I created an AI model that detects suicidal ideation in social media content immediately. I trained my Machine Learning model to detect more than just suicidal words such as “I want to die”. It can now understand sentiment level and social influences (e.x. polarizing political climates, situations that may induce seasonal affective disorders, etc.) to better predict a number percentage of how suicidal the post would be. As an example, if someone posts “I don’t belong here” the model may pick up some suicidal ideation if it recognizes this was a lyric from a depressing song, “Creep” by Radiohead. After developing my model to a 92% accuracy, I knew this had to be implemented to prevent others from taking their life. To do so, I am now working with a team at Microsoft to continue to develop my model and integrate it in workplaces and educational institutes. At the end of the day, it’s not about saving a million lives, one matters just as much.
Truthfully, it has not been an easy journey and the path for us change makers may not always be linear. There will be people who are not supportive of our ideas especially since we are young people. We will always come across people who have more experience and are resistant to change. I myself, have had people from social media companies tell me that company reputation matters more than saving a life.
I could have given up on this model, this mission, this vision. But instead, I kept on going. I kept pushing because it’s not about knocking on their doors once, it’s about knocking 20-50 times until they start to listen. It’s so easy to accept what the world has to tell you. I could have just accepted that I was bound to only be a housewife and that my model would never make it anywhere, but I didn’t and because of that I am on a mission to impact billions.
The best part is, as youth all have the potential to make a difference. We just have to start!