When Franklin-based Digital Reasoning was asked if they could build a tool to help Thorn — an organization founded by Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore — find and save children who may be victims of sex trafficking or exploitation, Rob Metcalf, Digital Reasoning’s president and COO, was happy to give it a try.
“It’s not something we’ve done before,” Metcalf said of what the organization was asking, but it “seemed like a good fit.”
“As a business guy, I’m inclined to say, ‘let’s figure it out,’ ” Metcalf said.
Nearly two years later, the machine learning software company — which traditionally works in the financial services and government fields, helping computers process language and data — has helped develop a tool for the organization that can comb through online postings and help law enforcement officials determine which ones may lead them to children in need of help.
Julie Cordua, executive director of Thorn, said the group had seen a trend in survivor surveys in which many victims were posting their own ads online or participating in other online environments. Cordua and her team wondered, then, if there was a way to process the language of postings and ads to determine which ones were written by someone being trafficked or otherwise under duress.
“We knew that this kind of linguistic technology … we knew it existed, we didn’t know how to tap it,” Cordua said. “We needed someone really smart to come along to really take an idea we had and tell us whether it could be done.”
The responsibility fell to Digital Reasoning, one of 20 companies that make up Thorn’s Technology Task Force, as listed on its website.
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