White House Considers AI to Predict Mass Violence

Concept of advanced health projects agency advanced by Suzanne Wright Foundation.

The Health Advanced Research Project Agency (HARPA) was first proposed two years ago, as a kind of health-focused version of the noted Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which made some of the biggest innovation breakthroughs of the 20th century under the aegis of military innovation.

DARPA was founded during the Cold War in the wake of the Soviet success with Sputnik. HARPA, pushed at the beginning of the Trump Administration by the Suzanne Wright Foundation to tackle cancer, is now getting some momentum due to the latest mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, according to reports.

Last week the Suzanne Wright Foundation again lobbied the White House — this time to include a new project within HARPA which would try to predict violence based on neurobiological digital data, according to The Washington Post.

“Safe Home” — or “Stopping Aberrant Fatal Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes “—would use volunteer data to try and predict who would be next to perpetrate such violence as a mass shooting, according to the report.

The project would rely on neurobiological “sensor suite” using AI to identify mental health changes which could mean more risk for violent behavior, according to the newspaper’s sources on the talks.

A proposal reportedly includes data collection from a variety of devices, including Apple Watches and Fitbits, as well as voice-activated devices such as Amazon Echoes and Google Homes.

President Donald Trump has emphasized his belief that mental illness is one of the key factors in the mass-shooting epidemic which has plagued the United States since the turn of the millennium.

Some health experts have been skeptical that population-level observations of risk factors could predict individuals who may be apt for violence.

However, a study published last month in the journal JAMA Network Open by a Dutch team of researchers found they could identify some risk factors for violence within a subset of the population. Using routinely registered clinical notes with EHRs from two psychiatric healthcare institutions in the Netherlands, the researchers were able to employ machine learning to determine risk assessments, they conclude.

One bioethics expert told Inside Digital Health™ that looking for mental health causes to spasms of violence is misguided—instead it is hatred which is the main underlying cause. Arthur Caplan, Ph.D., the Drs. William F. and Virginia Connolly Mitty Professor of Bioethics, Department of Population Health at the New York University School of Medicine said the possibility of AI screening for mental health is a "diversion from serious gun control" — and the political blocking of such measures is "an ethical disgrace."

"Mental health is deficient in America but the majority of mass slayings by domestic terrorists are linked to hate not mental illness," said Caplan.

“In the near future, we envision that further advancements towards a data-driven psychiatric practice will be made and that EHR data will become an even more valuable asset in supporting important decisions in the clinical practice,” the authors concluded.

HARPA was originally proposed to tackle cancer.

The Suzanne Wright Foundation was founded in 2016 by Bob Wright, the former chair of NBC, while President Donald Trump’s show “The Apprentice” was on air. The Foundation is founded in honor of, and named after Bob Wright’s wife, who died of pancreatic cancer — a cause which was the first stated objective of HARPA.

A spokesperson for the Suzanne Wright Foundation could not be reached for comment by Inside Digital Health™.

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