Pilot program

Liminex software generated roughly 2,000 mental health alerts per week over the course of a seven-month pilot program that ran from January to August 2017 and included 10 schools and roughly 5 million students nationwide.

Former Los Angeles Unified School District coordinator of health education Lori Vollandt worked as an adviser on the project.

Shinde said the company is in talks with LAUSD and hopes it will become a customer.

Shaddix emphasized students are given notice that Liminex software will track their activity on school-issued devices. Schools are obligated under federal law to monitor student internet use on school-devices.

Shaddix said Liminex is mindful of privacy concerns with its software and system.

“We set this up not to collect screenshots at all times, but only when the A.I. triggers with confidence there’s an incident,” said Shaddix.

Queries to cyberspace about methods of suicide or searches for counseling, for example, would generally be considered triggers.

Shinde said the company is legally prevented from using its data for marketing or advertising purposes.

The focus on what might be red flags is the key in any case.

“This approach is the only way to enable the modern internet to be successful,” Shinde said. “The URL tells you almost nothing. Most students aren’t using the word suicide, so using AI we were able to break into this whole area of students who were unseen and alert schools that this was problematic,” Shinde added.

Broad feedback

Schools who purchase Liminex’s software will have some initial support from several suicide prevention organizations.

Liminex partnered in June with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), which will provide free suicide prevention and counseling training for schools using the company’s software. Liminex said it received feedback from more than 100 guidance counselors and consulted the AFSP, American School Counselors Association and the American Association of Suicidology in creating the program, which it dubbed Beacon.

“It started with basic education and conversation around what does put people at risk for suicide, what that might manifest as in certain behaviors especially online, and as they were training their AI, we’ve gone through different scenarios of searches,” said Dr. Christine Moutier, AFSP’s chief medical officer.

Shaddix said Liminex has “no monetary relationship at all” with AFSP.

Shaddix said he expects the internet will continue to grow as a learning tool, and making sure students use it safely will become more of an education priority.

“Schools are thinking more broadly about digital citizenship and for many students this is the main first device they use to access internet, so the school is responsible for teaching students how to use it appropriately,” said Shaddix.