In a three-day competition known as a hackathon, Technion undergraduates worked to develop online methodologies to recognize suicidal ideation, with the goal of offering assistance and saving lives. 

More than 500 people a year kill themselves in Israel. In the United States, that number jumps to about 50,000. Worldwide, someone takes their life every 40 seconds. 

“People put more of themselves on social media than they realize,” said Professor Avigdor Gal of the Faculty of Data and Decision Sciences. “We cannot be blind to society around us, what is done with the tools we develop, how the data we collect is used. Our values must be part of the work we do.”  

To that end, every year the Faculty of Data and Decision Sciences sponsors a hackathon to solve a social problem that gives students hands-on experience tackling the kind of challenges they will face in their future careers. This year, armed with information about suicide provided by Israel’s leading mental health organizations, 70 students divided into 16 teams were able to approach the difficult subject with maximum information.  

First place went to Ziv Barzilay, Liad Domb, Omri Lazover, and Jonathan Wolloch, who proposed a system that would use information gathered from social media to target the inner circle of individuals displaying suicidal ideation with ads and banners related to the subject. The team’s hope is that those closest to the individuals at risk would become more aware of the signs that lead to self-harm and would be best positioned to help. 

The hackathon was part of research conducted by Ph.D. student Shir Lisak and M.S. student Ilanit Sobol, who are exploring how to recognize suicidal behaviors online. The event was funded with support from the Israel Data Science Initiative, the Technion Social Hub, and Tech.AI, the Technion’s artificial intelligence hub.