Koko (née Panoply) was an online mental health intervention that reached over a million people, mostly adolescents. The platform started as a clinical trial at MIT and evolved into a venture-backed startup, supported by Union Square and Spero Ventures.
Koko was based on the concept of crowdsourced cognitive therapy. In essence, the platform empowered its users to help each other think more hopefully about the world. Unlike traditional peer support platforms, all interactions on our service were supported and augmented by AI. Users loved it.
At its peak, Koko was embedded into various social networks, including Tumblr, Kik and Pinterest. Individuals at risk of self-harm and suicide were identified programmatically, via deep neural net classifiers. These individuals were then routed to one of over 60 crisis lines around the world. The whole process - a considerable advance over the status quo - led to a 23% increase in the rates at which users actually contacted these services (see our Harvard paper on this work).
The algorithms that powered Koko were eventually repurposed and further refined to support Internet Safety more broadly. These services were used by many large Internet companies, including Airbnb (which purchased the company in 2018). While some of Koko's suicide prevention technologies are still in service, our peer network has been disabled for the time being.
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The Koko platform helped advance mental health research across a variety of domains, including suicide prevention, AI, and social psychology, among others. We collaborated with many academic institutions, including Harvard, Stanford, UPenn, and the University of Cambridge. Some representative publications can be seen here.