In 2015, a worried father asked Rhema Vaithianathan a question that still weighs on her mind. A small crowd had gathered in a basement room in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to hear her explain how software might tackle child abuse. Each day, the area's hotline receives dozens of calls from people who suspect that a child is in danger; some of these are then flagged by call-centre staff for investigation. But the system does not catch all cases of abuse. Vaithianathan and her colleagues had just won a half-million-dollar contract to build an algorithm to help.
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