The Trevor Project Encapsulates Riley, An AI Trainer To Aid Distressed LGBTQ Youths
On the day of 1998 when the Oscar-winning film Trevor TV premiere aired on HBO, the filmmakers, Peggy Rajski, Randy Stone and James Celeste Lecesne, launched the world’s first national crisis intervention and suicide prevention lifeline for LGBTQ+ youth in the U.S.
Set in 1981, Trevor follows the story of the namesake protagonist, a 13-year-old boy, unsure of his sexual orientation. Trevor is a huge Diana Ross fan and has a crush on one of his guy schoolmates. This sends him spinning, questioning his sexuality and identity. As his crush gets discovered, his family and friends shun him. Agitated, he tries committing suicide; however, he survives and finds an unexpected friend in the nurse who cares for him in the hospital and eventually helps Trevor accept himself as he is.
The Trevor Project was an attempt to help prevent the rampant suicide attempts amongst the U.S. LGBTQ youths under 25. According to their survey, 40% of the LGBTQ youth respondents have seriously considered suicide in the past six months; 48% report indulging in self-harm rituals; while 46% report, they don’t get the mental help they need.
The organization works tirelessly as a 24/7 online digital chat support viz. TrevorChat and TrevorText, with over 700 counsellors. The counsellor trainees undergo intensive 40 hours of training: learning about gender and sexuality issues, crises such as bullying and self-harm, clinical suicide risk assessments and communication techniques.
Amit Paley, the current CEO and Executive Director, has admitted to associations with Google.org to develop a crisis contact simulator AI that will aid these counsellor training programmes. The AI dubbed Riley apes human behaviour and provides an authentic life experience of counselling troubled youths.
Riley is a fictional queer character of North Carolina who is anxious and depressed. His coming out plans did not go well with his friends while despite having a supportive family, he fears being tagged a freak. He has had suicidal thoughts in the past, but not at present. The chatbot is trained to emulate the lingo of teenagers of LGBTQ+ demography; also to accommodate varied controversial inputs from trainees undergoing crisis management technique applications. Human staff members later debrief sessions to study the manuscripts with the trainee responses.
At present Riley is assisting in the development of more characters to increase the range of training. This is the first-ever conversational AI used to train frontline counsellors, thus a remarkable step towards revolutionizing online chat support. Though the crisis management isn’t addressed to the ultimate degree as expected, Riley is definitely a gigantic change of incorporating AI to condition human decision making and aiding in training to create better professionals.
Originally published at https://www.colourfulingrey.com on March 28, 2021.