A man develops an artificial intelligence program to reduce homelessness

Eric Rice has developed an artificial intelligence program to reduce homelessness.

Rice is a social work professor and co-founder of the University of Southern California Center for Artificial Intelligence in Society (CAIS), where he and engineering professor Milind Tambe develop predictive models for public health interventions.

In their 2016 pilot, now being replicated with a larger sample size in Los Angeles, algorithms analyzed social networks of homeless youth like Jacob, who opted into the study.

To replace social workers’ subjective gauge of who had clout, the algorithm selected a group of “influencers” to spread information about HIV to their peers, empowering them to be the change-makers.

Study interviews revealed HIV testing rates increased for both an AI-assisted group and a comparison group — but the increase doubled with the algorithm’s help, while condom use rose faster as well. Rice’s team is working with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority to deploy AI-infused vulnerability assessments that match people with best-suited housing and mental health interventions, expediting this process for overloaded social workers. Rice compares the housing algorithm to Uber (optimally pairing resources with recipients) and the HIV project to Google Maps (directing resources through channels to destinations faster).

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