For all of human history, we’ve built machines and tools to help us do our work more quickly and efficiently. Not only have these tools made our manual labor faster and more efficient, but they’ve also increased safety for workers. Until recently, however, machines weren’t used to help with human-centric professions like social work.
With the rise of artificial intelligence (AI), we’re beginning to see the role of machines in every imaginable context including the field of social work. AI can’t yet run a therapy session or fully coordinate a plan for helping people to improve their lives, but there are ways it could be used to assist social workers in their daily responsibilities, and even save lives. Here’s how AI might help shape the future of social work.
Social Work is Shifting: Here’s How AI Can Help
We’re all familiar with social work these days, but it’s actually a fairly new concept. The industrial revolution, which helped make society more productive, also displaced families and put many people out of work. Social work emerged during the late 19th century to help address these inequalities.
By the 1920s, social workers could be found in many different settings, including hospitals, schools, and family agencies. Just 20 years later, they were also working with people who were struggling with mental health conditions.
The profession has gone through many changes over the years and is beginning to shift once again. Unrest is growing in the United States as a new kind of automation takes over and systems of inequality thrive. A digital revolution is putting people out of work and changing the American landscape.
Social workers have to adapt to these challenges and use all the tools available to them. The responsibilities of social workers continue to expand and shift alongside advanced technology. AI might be able to help social workers become more effective, freeing up their time for tasks that require a uniquely human approach.
Can AI Predict Suicide Attempts?
One of the hardest things a social worker has to go through is learning that a client has committed suicide. Obviously, no one should ever feel like their situation is hopeless enough to take their own lives. However, poor mental health and/or a person’s circumstances can sometimes drive them to suicide.
It’s not easy to predict who will attempt suicide. There are so many different factors involved that it’s difficult for social workers to assess risk with any kind of confidence. That’s where AI can come in—in one study, using algorithms and machine learning predicted which individuals would attempt suicide with 80% accuracy up to a full two years before an attempt would take place.
Identifying risk is just the first step, of course, but it can help social workers provide appropriate support to high-risk individuals, potentially saving their lives.
AI Chatbots Could Provide 24/7 Resources to Those in Need
People are the most vulnerable when they are in crisis and feel alone. They might self-harm, experience severe mental illness episodes, or even attempt suicide. In these moments, having someone to talk to can be crucial.
Having 24/7 support available to all is challenging from a staffing perspective. AI can help in the form of chatbots and other automated systems to help direct people to the right resources. A chatbot alone might not be enough to help people who are having a panic attack or another crisis, but it could be a great tool for assessing the situation and getting help to people who need it the most.
AI for Improving Job Access & Opportunities
Social workers are often tasked with helping their clients to find stable employment, which can be a time-consuming task. Instead of manually searching for job opportunities, social workers could use AI technology to help locate openings and opportunities that match the applicant’s skills and interests.
AI can also be used to help people develop job-related skills. Algorithms can adapt curriculums to the student’s level and help them build the specific skills they will need to enter the workforce. This could lead to not only employment but also an improved financial situation and more self-confidence.
How Soon Will AI Impact the Future of Social Work? That’s the Question!
Though social workers could benefit from using AI right now to help the populations they serve, these tools are not currently widespread within the field. Some social workers have access to AI, but most are still using traditional methods and using their experience alone to help their clients. The future is coming, but we’re not sure exactly when yet.
Change is on the horizon in social work, but there’s no need to fear that automation will dominate the field and put social workers out of a job. AI will enhance a social worker’s ability to provide support, but as a uniquely social field, social workers won’t have to worry about being automated for a very long time.