AI inspired by the film Spotlight could track down child abusers

New Scientist

May 30, 2018

By Timothy Revell

Journalists at The Boston Globe searched for patterns in public records to uncover priests in the Catholic church who had sexually abused children. Now, researchers think artificial intelligence could do the same job faster, more accurately and on a much wider scale.

The Boston Globe investigation, depicted in the film Spotlight, involved looking for clues like priests suddenly going on sick leave or moving around a lot. Joelle Casteix at the Zero Abuse Project, a non-profit that aims to help institutions prevent child abuse, and her team have created an AI that looks for similar patterns in thousands of documents from large organisations.

Casteix unveiled the project at the AI for Good Global Summit in Geneva, Switzerland, last week. “I am a survivor of sexual abuse from a teacher, which was followed by a lot of cover-up,” says Casteix. “This is the first time there is a proactive way to stop the cycle.”

The new initiative, called Project G, can study both digital documents or turn paper scans into machine-readable files for the AI to scour. Depending on the organisation, the documents can include those detailing where different people are based and their roles over time, and news clippings in which they are mentioned.

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