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This chatbot teaches counselors how to talk to LGBTQ kids in crisis

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I’m staring at a chat window like any other, but my stomach is tight as I see the little chat bubbles indicating that someone on the other end is typing. They say their name is Riley. And since this is an LGBTQ help line, I know that Riley is in trouble.

“I’ve been wanting to come out as genderqueer to my parents. I thought that I would first try to come out to my friends. . . . I came out to a few of them last week and it didn’t go so well. . . . It was just awful. . . . They acted like I was such a freak.”

What can I even say to Riley in this moment that doesn’t sound trite or pointless or too familiar? That’s precisely what I’m about to learn. Riley is not a real person, but an AI (artificial intelligence) persona. And this chat? It’s a training tool called the Crisis Contact Simulator, developed by the Trevor Project—the nonprofit focused on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth, which runs both a 24/7 hotline and a chat service for anyone who needs support.

“Our mentality is that no crisis is too large or too small,” says Daniel Fichter, head of AI and engineering at the Trevor Project. “A lot of important work in suicide prevention happens when people aren’t immediately suicidal, but they find it would be helpful to talk about where they’ve been and might be going emotionally.”

In a world in which most chatbots are........

© Fast Company

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