By Genevieve Waldie
An estimated 30% of the nine million calls made to 000 each year in Australia are non-genuine.
These accidental or prank calls waste time and resources, and delay response time for genuine requests.
Researchers at the University of Southern Queensland (USQ) are leading the world with an artificial intelligence system to predict hoax calls and prioritise legitimate calls.
Computer scientist Dr Rajib Rana has received an Advance Queensland COVID-19 Industry Research Fellowship to develop his ‘distress inference system’ to identify genuine calls, so services can be prioritised to those truly at risk.
These Fellowships support researchers working with industry, to undertake research that addresses the COVID-19 pandemic and recovery, or preparedness for possible future pandemics or similar scale events.
Dr Rana’s system will use artificial intelligence and algorithms to determine distress levels in people’s voices and allow call handlers, dispatchers and clinicians to identify hoax calls.
“I am developing a system that can detect distress in real-time when someone is making a phone call. Distress causes physiological changes in humans, and that can be reflected through the voice,” he says.
Dr Rana’s research focuses on artificial intelligence, machine learning and automatic emotion recognition, and builds on his previous work recognising specific distress behaviours.
“This funding is very timely, due to COVID-19 a lot of people are at risk of taking their own lives. Emergencies services can use this system to detect those people and potentially save lives every day.
“Time is precious when responding to calls that are life-and-death situations, but unfortunately, about one-third of calls made to emergency helplines are hoax calls, which waste valuable resources and place lives at risk,” Dr Rana said.
Dr Rana said while there were many distress screening tools already available, none of the other systems were suitable for time-critical emergencies.
The first trial of the distress interference system will be implemented through Metro North Mental Health access line 1300 MH CALL.
“We’ve already received interest from the Queensland Police Service, Lifeline and Cancer Council Queensland. The advantage of this project is not only can it prepare for future health crises, but it is also well-positioned to help prepare for other future crises known to cause distress in people, such as bushfires, droughts and floods,” he said.