Google uses new AI to better detect searches made by people during personal  crises

Google is using new artificial intelligence designed to understand the intent behind search inquiries, technology the search giant hopes will deliver more relevant results for people seeking help during personal crises.

On Wednesday, Google said in a blog post it would begin implementing MUM, an AI model that more accurately detects “a wider range of personal crisis searches,” in the coming weeks. The model is designed to better understand the intent behind search queries and provide immediately useful information to the searcher. Google says the new model will help its search engine with inquiries related to suicide, sexual assault, substance abuse and domestic violence.

The company also said another AI model, dubbed BERT, reduced the number of unwanted sexually explicit results the search engine returns. Google said BERT has already cut “unexpected shocking results” by 30% over the past year.

The new AIs are designed to deliver results that more accurately reflect the intent behind searches. Google can easily return the phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Hotline when people in crisis search. But because depression is complex, the reason for user inquiries isn’t always entirely obvious to Google’s search engine.

Tech platforms have struggled with suicide content, which is easy to find on social media platforms. Suicide is a leading cause of death in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and was responsible for nearly 46,000 deaths in 2020.

Google says that BERT has helped reduce explicit results around ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender.