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Trevor Project using “Crisis Contact Simulator” AI persona to scale counselor training

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The Trevor Project this week launched the second persona of its Crisis Contact Simulator (CCS), the organization’s proprietary, AI-powered counselor training tool that simulates digital conversations with LGBTQ youth in crisis.

The Trevor Project first announced the CCS, which it developed in partnership with Google.org Fellows, in March 2021. 

The Crisis Contact Simulator was designed to help scale the organization’s volunteer counselor training program for its free, confidential, and 24/7 digital crisis services, TrevorChat and TrevorText. The technology enables counselors-in-training to practice realistic conversations with digital youth personas before moving on to the next phase of role-plays led by Trevor staff.

The new persona, “Drew,” represents a person in their early 20s who lives in California and is facing harassment and bullying. Drew will be used in tandem with “Riley,” the first Crisis Contact Simulator persona that emulates messages from a teen in North Carolina who feels anxious and depressed. Each persona represents a unique life situation, background, sexual orientation, gender identity, and risk level, in order to prepare trainees to support the full scope of young people whom they might interact with.

“Starting from the first conception of the Crisis Contact Simulator two years ago, it has always been our hope to develop a variety of training role-play personas that represent the diverse experiences and intersectional identities of the LGBTQ young people we serve, each with their own stories and feelings,” said Dan Fichter, head of AI and engineering at The Trevor Project. “We’re excited to deploy Drew with our trainees to offer a wider variety of practice scenarios and narratives, which will better prepare them to connect with any young person in a moment of crisis when the time comes.” 

Since implementing the Crisis Contact Simulator earlier this year, The Trevor Project has been able to train more than 1,000 counselors with the tool – supporting its goal to scale the digital volunteer counselor base. 

The Crisis Contact Simulator model and its first persona “Riley” were developed in partnership with Google.org as part of the Google AI Impact Challenge, which included $2.7 million in grants and the support of nearly 30 Google.org Fellows who worked alongside The Trevor Project’s staff. In addition to the Crisis Contact Simulator, the collaboration also resulted in an AI-powered Risk Assessment model, which helps The Trevor Project assess suicide risk and facilitates connections between the highest-risk youth and a crisis counselor more quickly.

The organization currently employs a technology team of more than 30 full-time staff dedicated to product development, AI and machine learning, engineering, UX, and technology operations.  

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