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In London, an argument over apartments, 1969. Photo: William Lovelace/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty

Among efforts to make social media a more congenial place, researchers at Cornell are working on artificial intelligence that detects nasty online conversations when they are only starting to take that turn.

What's going on: Most studies of online conversation look for phrases such as, "What the hell is wrong with you.” But, by then, it's too late. In their new paper, Justine Zhang, Jonathan Chang and Cristian Danescu-Niculescu-Mizil say they aim to ferret out anti-social clues "when the conversation is still salvageable."

How they did it: The Cornell team studied some 1,200 conversations on Wikipedia Talk pages, reports MIT Tech Review, in a collaboration with researchers from Jigsaw and Wikimedia.

Among their findings:

  • Cues of civil conversations include greetings and gratitude as well as opinions that are hedged.
  • Conversations going bad feature sentences starting with the word "you," which signals potential trouble.

That won't surprise many of us: The researchers found that humans are still better at this than AI — a control group of humans detected a bad conversation in advance 72% of the time, compared with 61.6% for the AI.

  • Yet if all humans were terrific at heading off online battles, we would not be in some of the mess we currently confront. In other words, early detection would be a good thing.

One bit of good news: In some of the conversations their AI had flagged, the humans eventually self-corrected.

  • The paper concludes, "Interactions which initially seem prone to attacks can nonetheless maintain civility, by way of level-headed interlocutors, as well as explicit acts of reparation."

Go deeper

What's ahead for the newest female CEOs

Jane Fraser (L) and Rosalind Brewer. Photos: Jason Redmond/AFP via Getty Images; Rodrigo Capote/Bloomberg via Getty Images.

The number of women at the helm of America’s biggest companies pales in comparison to men, but is newly growing — and their tasks are huge.

What's going on: Jane Fraser took over at Citigroup this week, the first woman to ever lead a major U.S. bank. Rosalind Brewer will take the reins at Walgreens in the coming weeks (March 15) — a company that's been run by white men for more than a century.

1 hour ago - Health

Biden says U.S. will have enough vaccines for 300 million adults by end of May

President Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker-Pool/Getty Images

President Biden on Tuesday said that ramped-up coronavirus vaccine production will provide enough doses for 300 million Americans by the end May.

Why it matters: That's two months sooner than Biden's previous promise of enough vaccines for all American adults by the end of July.

Updated 3 hours ago - Health

Texas to end all coronavirus restrictions

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaking at the White House in December 2020. Photo: Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Texas will end its coronavirus restrictions next week with an upcoming executive order, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) announced Tuesday during a press conference in Lubbock.

Why it matters: After Abbott signs the new order, which rescinds previous orders, all businesses can open to 100% capacity and the statewide mask mandate will be over, though large parts of the state will remain under mask local ordinances.