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Collaboration with Zenti Brings a New Way to Identify Vets in Trouble
November 8, 2016|Life

Collaboration with Zenti Brings a New Way to Identify Vets in Trouble

Collaboration with Zenti Brings a New Way to Identify Vets in Trouble

Article Originally Published on, Read Full Article HERE


Sometimes you just have to marvel at the way things come together. Take the case of the National Veterans Foundation’s partnering with Zenti, Inc. and Dr. Joe Franklin. Three separate entities embarked on an exciting project to identify veterans at risk of suicide through public social media content. You know the statistics…from 22-25 veteran suicides a day, we’re now at 20. Early detection and intervention are still the most successful means of suicide prevention, but identifying the symptoms and providing timely outreach remain an ongoing challenge. We’re working together on a tool to identify and intervene well before a vet makes that last phone call to a friend, family member or a crisis hotline.

Zenti's Kieren Prior, NVF Board President Frank Spady, and Steve Cracknell

Kieren Prior, NVF Board President Frank Spady, and Steve Cracknell with their “Stop 22” Veteran Suicide Prevention signs.

Time to meet the players: Steve Cracknell and Kieran Prior are, respectively, the CEO and CSO of Zenti, Inc., a software development company. Cracknell, whose career started out in marketing and advertising, emigrated from South Africa to England in 2001. Having also studied Finance at business school, he wanted a change and he found a position with a large financial company where he cut his teeth in financial technology software. He started out in Strategies, working with, as he tells it, “All PhD’s in math and science and me, Steve the Marketing Dude.”

While initially he felt out of place, he soon found his niche helping a department that was struggling to get workers to adopt the new and improved version of their internal proprietary software. “It wasn’t going well – no one wanted to use the new tool the company had spent millions of dollars developing and somehow I got the job of finding out why.” Steve went to the users and asked them about the software, listened to their complaints, and asked what they’d like to see. Then he took that information back to the IT developers. Simple. “I don’t answer the HOW it should be done. I answer the WHAT do you want…to get the result.” It’s a method that’s served him well.

Prior grew up outside Manchester, England, the son of a butcher. At eighteen months old, when he still couldn’t walk, he was diagnosed with dystonia, a neurological movement disorder. His parents re-designed their home to accommodate their son’s disability. It wasn’t until Kieran was ten or eleven that they recognized his extraordinary intelligence. By fifteen, Kieran realized that in order for him to live independently, he’d need a career that would allow him to afford full-time care. He chose finance and trading because it was based on mental capabilities, not physical, and because it could be lucrative. On his graduation from Manchester University, he applied to only one place, the firm he considered to be the top. He was the first disabled person interviewed for a trading role and basically every partner in the firm interviewed him. He got the job.

And that’s where he met Steve Cracknell. They collaborated on a product and became fast friends, then later went into business together. That was ten years ago. Steve says, “All the stuff we’ve built started with just an idea. Anything’s possible if you put your mind to it.” They’ve developed software to process language statistically as data, and applied it to detecting people on social media at risk for suicide. Because it’s statistical, processing it is faster. After processing, the data is scored. When applied in the context of processing and understanding human intent and emotion, this methodology proved to be incredibly effective. In this application, “the people most likely to hurt themselves have the largest score. Efficient use of time,” Cracknell says. And that efficiency is what will let us reach out to those vets sooner.

Dr. Joe Franklin is the director of the technology and psychopathology lab (TAP lab) at Florida State University. The TAP lab’s mission is “to ignite large-scale reductions in mental illness by harmonizing advances in technology with advances in psychology.” No stranger to veterans’ issues, Franklin was the co-investigator for the Military Suicide Research Consortium Grant from the US Department of Defense in 2015 – 2016. In 2016, he was named a Rising Star by the Association for Psychological Science. Joe’s work has been supported by the National Institutes of Mental Health, the U.S. Department of Defense, and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, among others. We’re delighted that Dr. Franklin joined our Advisory Board this year.

Zenti and Dr. Franklin worked together to create statistical classifiers based on keywords and phrases in public social media content that could indicate suicidal ideation. The unique software allows a subject matter expert to easily create and train their own classifier to identify content of interest.

The National Veterans Foundation was a natural partner for Zenti. Our Lifeline for Vets staff continues to help train the software to look for those language signals. Even during the “training” process we’ve found and been able to reach out to individual vets on social media who are struggling with VA benefits, PTSD symptoms, depression and other adjustment issues. We will be concentrating on broad proactive outreach to make them aware that our Lifeline for Vets is here to provide vet-to-vet readjustment services, and that they can call and get assistance with any issues they may be having.

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The “Long Goodbye” and My Determined Fight to Achieve the Unbelievable
August 21, 2016|Life

The “Long Goodbye” and My Determined Fight to Achieve the Unbelievable

The “Long Goodbye” and My Determined Fight to Achieve the Unbelievable

This is an unusual posting for my reader base. It will be short and very personal in content. I apologize if the frank content offends anyone. However, I can assure you, everything I say is hard but true. While some of you may find this difficult, I can only hope that my intentions of opening my readers’ views to allow them to become better informed and have a wider perspective in visiting my blog.


Yesterday, after speaking with my father in the morning, I found out my last paternal Aunt has fallen into a palliative state as a result of her longtime struggle with Alzheimer’s disease.


Discovered in 1906 by Alois Alzheimer, a renowned German neurologist, there are now said to be 48 million sufferers of the disease worldwide. The disease causes the onset of dementia, and in turn, causes body functions to breakdown and eventually the essential organs to fail to work.  It was christened “The Long Goodbye” because the actual onset of dementia can be unpredictable, sometimes lasting decades or even just a few months. The nature of the word goodbye relates to those loved ones to see the person eventually become nothing more than a shadow of their former selves.  This truly is the devastating disease that needs all the help it can receive.


However, fundraising is not the reason why I introduced this concept and hard topic into my blog. Whilst I do wish to garner awareness for our silent causes, I also want to speak about something closer to home.


I have a condition called secondary non-genetic dystonia. Let’s face it, that not many people have heard about.  Without getting too technical, it basically means I cannot control any fine motor skills. This problem with the disease or condition is made worse by many factors including tiredness, stress, or alcohol.


Since birth, I have never been able to fend for myself. Not one day has passed where I have dressed myself, showered myself, or brushed my own teeth. This might sound harsh to some, but without a loving wife, incredible parents, and a variety of electronic wheelchairs, I would, in fact, be an innate member of society. I hear those people who love me thinking, “you can’t say that?” and whilst I understand the emotional defensiveness of those people around me, what I said is exactly true.


There is one factor that is different in my case. I am as stubborn as a mule, as ambitious as Bill Gates and as intelligent as Albert Einstein (according to my US customs visa anyway).


From the age of 13, I have known what I wanted to do, how wanted to do it, and where I wanted to be. I became the only disabled trader in Goldman Sachs history, which is undoubtedly the world’s premier investment bank. Was it hard? You’re damn right it was hard and there were days where I wanted to give up and go home. These days are the hardest because we are acutely aware that ultimately, we have taken a gamble. This gamble is on whether you believe in yourself, no one else, just yourself. But with every bet there is always a downside, in my case, it was leaving friends and family behind to go and fulfill my dream.


I cannot say I have any regrets. It has been incredibly painful and incredibly arduous along the way. And that’s before people get in your way because there will always be those who are bigoted and small minded and just want to put people down. This is why I admire what Peter Thiel has done recently to Gawker, which to me, seemed like nothing but the harbor of doom. As far as I’m concerned, they got what they deserved.


Life can be extremely fragile, both mentally and physically. When conditions such as Alzheimer’s exist, and are more prevalent than ever, I urge people to realize that life gives you a gift, and it is your job to not waste it. I encourage anyone to push themselves outside of their own comfort zone…just give it a try.


Carpe diem

An American Superhero or Simply an Uber Villain?
August 11, 2016|e-commerceLife

An American Superhero or Simply an Uber Villain?

An American Superhero or Simply an Uber Villain?

Uber, the American transit liberation service formed in 2009 by Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, is widely considered to be the darling of many investment portfolios on Sandhill Road. Uber is viewed as a raging success of Silicon Valley disruption, something all entrepreneurs should aspire to.


I personally have my doubts. There are many things regarding the company’s business model, safety and most importantly, for those who have invested in the company, its longevity, and the sustainability looks to me to be destined to go the way of the dodo, or in this case the more apt analogy, maybe Napster.


Do I have anything good to say, I hear you ask?


Of course, as a businessman, I understand that any innovation will be destructive and often cause losses of jobs, and even change industry practices. Again, this is akin to the Napster analogy I mentioned earlier which will become blatantly clear in this piece later on.


I recently came back from Budapest where other taxi drivers unceremoniously kicked Uber out of the city because of revolt. What I thought would be useful would be to go through both examples, in London and New York, as to the procedures and qualifications a taxi driver has to obtain before they can operate, as well as a financial impact.


Let’s begin in my own capital city of London. To date, there are 24,000 Black cabs (that is, the term Black relates to the colour of the carriage), each one of them having disabled access, something that others may not appreciate as much as I do, nevertheless the fact. In order to operate a black cab, drivers are forced to do “the knowledge” – an arduous system, that has potential drivers driving around London on mopeds, memorising over 400 different routes used by customers. Incredibly, this process is so engulfing it can take on average 3 to 4 years to finish. Once completed, drivers have a thorough police background-check and only when they have passed this test are able to operate as a driver. There are many other levels of qualifications, that drivers are held to, for example, if the driver is complained about to the central office more than once, he or she can lose their license to operate. Cab drivers are held to a higher standard than the average driver. This process is equivalent to an undergraduate degree and medical research supports that this actually expands the driver’s visual awareness and geographic centres of the brain.


As far as I can tell, Uber allows anybody to use his or her own vehicle, once an apparently flimsy background check is done. The driver is simply given the software to his/her phone and then they can become a driver. Just stop for one second to think? We are actively encouraging strangers, who are unqualified and not vetted, to drive us around. What does this mean for safety? Heaven forbid that an Uber driver would commit a felony, or even worse a physical attack on a passenger (after death, the most horrifying would be a sexual assault). Currently, there are little to no responsibilities taken by the company for such matters.


Ladies and gentlemen, quite simply every time you enter a car with an Uber driver, you are rolling the dice and taking chances because you have no protection or recourse. Is your son or daughter not worth more protection? Is this not why we buy insurance and pay our taxes?


In New York, there is a more clear reflection of the financial impact, for those who do not know the Yellow Cab synonymous with the Manhattan skyline are only allowed to operate with a Medallion. These Medallions are restricted and the number and quality of drivers are controlled whilst also maintaining a viable business for those who could afford them.


Medallion Stock Price


As we can see from the staggering chart about the Medallion valuation, there has been a disastrous impact on the valuation of yellow cab medallions as our friends have expanded from city to city with impunity. Can this be justified from a company that takes little or no responsibility for its own actions and in fact, tries innovative ways to distance itself from its drivers on a daily basis?


I could go on about this, but I won’t talk about the ridiculously pathetic Uber accessibility program that is borderline false advertising, at least in my current city of San Francisco.


There is one last thing that interests me the most.


Uber recently announced a Chinese merger with Didi, a merger that leaves a $35 billion company with the current shareholders getting around a 20% stake in the new entity.


It was reported by Bloomberg that Uber is burning through around $1 billion dollars a year to maintain its current position. So I have one question to Travis and Garrett, why are you sacrificing the biggest population on the planet if your business model is working? Especially when two months ago all parties ruled out any merger. Is Uber running out of Capital or do we truly believe that they are going to spend time expanding into other markets? Really? It sounds to me a lot like a CEO who gets pushed out of their job, but then the press release reads, “They want to spend more time with their children”.


My personal view is that the clock is ticking, and I imagine the next step will be to push for an IPO (initial public offering). This is where the business is floated on the Stock Exchange and hence, would create massive fortunes for Travis and Garrett. This would be a completely logical step if only they weren’t risking people’s lives every day to make their fortune.


I am the most avid capitalist and totally believe in innovation. Since the day I was born, it has enabled me to free the shackles of my physical disability to live a normal life. However, sometimes innovation can be destined for destruction, not in the sense that they make things better, but instead, they just change the rules or in this case simply ignore them. Now we have come full circle and I will end this note with a vote of caution. When Sean Parker founded Napster, it revolutionised the music sharing capabilities of the world, but also single-handedly nearly destroyed the music industry itself. Mr. Parker was at one time the most litigated man on the planet and ended up making no money from Napster. I am not about to cry for Sean, as he did very well with his influence over Facebook, but I wonder whether Travis and Garrett had a similar dilemma? They have created a monster that they can no longer control and are being ousted by city after city across the globe.


Their only hope is that people and investors believe in their model long enough for them to reach the nirvana of the New York Stock Exchange.


As always, please feel free to leave your comments. Some people will agree with me, others will not, I look forward to hearing from you all.


Kieran Prior



Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

Zenti Project with Vanderbilt University – Dramatically Improving the Accuracy and Scope of Suicide Prediction
July 30, 2015|Life

Zenti Project with Vanderbilt University – Dramatically Improving the Accuracy and Scope of Suicide Prediction

Zenti Project with Vanderbilt University – Dramatically Improving the Accuracy and Scope of Suicide Prediction

Originally Posted by TAP Lab at Vanderbilt




Nearly one million people die by suicide each year around the world. This means that suicide accounts for more annual deaths than things like war, AIDS, and car accidents. Although medical and technological advances have dramatically reduced the rates of many diseases over the past 100 years, the rate of suicide has not declined appreciably over the last century.


To reduce suicide, it is crucial to identify people at risk and quickly connect them with an effective intervention. Despite hundreds of studies involving millions of people over the past 50 years, our meta-analytic work has shown that science’s ability to predict suicidal behaviors has never improved. Similar to 50 years ago, current science is only slightly better than random guessing when it comes to predicting suicidal behaviors.


Our work has identified several key barriers that have substantially limited progress on this front for several decades:

1. Very long studies. The average study that tries to predict suicidal behaviors is nearly 10 years long. The major problem with this is that most of what determines whether or not a suicidal behavior will occur happens in the minutes, hours, or days before the behavior. But less than 1% of existing studies have tried to predict suicidal behaviors over time periods of even a month or less (and none over time periods of less than a week). This is primarily because it is extremely difficult to conduct such short studies using traditional research methods. The result is that science has not been able to tap into the most important time period for suicidal behaviors — the moments before the behaviors occur.

2. Continued use of old (and ineffective) predictors. Since the beginning of suicide prediction research, science has stuck to a very small number of predictors, with 5 basic categories accounting for 80% of predictors and 9 basic categories accounting for over 95% of predictors. For example, a huge proportion of studies include depression (or something closely related to depression) as a predictor. It is impossible to advance the ability to predict suicide if the field continues to repeat the same studies. The inherent limitations of this repetitiveness are compounded by the fact that these popular factors (e.g., depression) are extremely poor predictors of future suicidal behaviors.

3. Predictors tested as constant factors. Most studies have treated predictors as constant phenomena. For example, many studies measure how depressed someone is and then test whether this depression level predicts suicidal behavior 10 years later. But psychological science has shown us that most predictors are not constant. Over the course of just a few minutes, someone may go from feeling fine to feeling extremely depressed. Such rapid changes may be strong predictors of suicidal behaviors, but very few studies have been able to measure such changes.

4. Predictors tested in isolation. It is extremely unlikely that a single factor can accurately predict future suicidal behaviors; accurate prediction will likely require a combination of several predictors. For example, a given person who feels hopeless is unlikely to attempt suicide in the near future. However, a white male who lives near a bridge, has few friends, and shows a rapid elevation in hopelessness in the hours after the breakup of a long-term relationship may be highly likely to attempt suicide in the near future. Once again, due to the constraints of traditional research methods, very few studies have tested such complex prediction models.

5. Limited scope and reach. Even if science had the ability to accurately predict suicidal behaviors, it currently has no platform through which to immediately identify those at high risk on a large scale. Most research to date has aimed to one day provide healthcare professionals with tools for accurate prediction. Although this is a laudable goal (and we aim to do the same), most individuals who engage in suicidal behaviors are not currently in contact with a healthcare professional. It is accordingly necessary to greatly expand the scope and reach of suicide prediction efforts.


Zenti provides a potential path through the barriers to progress noted above. First, Zenti gives us the ability to collect rich data on individuals in the moments before suicidal behavior occurs. This capability finally gives us a window into the most important time period for suicidal behaviors. Second, through its unique machine learning technology, Zenti allows us to develop a wide range of novel but theoretically-informed predictors that are likely to be far more accurate than traditional predictors.Third, Zenti enables us to examine the waxing and waning of predictors throughout a person’s social media history. This allows us to monitor rapid changes in potential risk factors with unprecedented accuracy and resolution. Fourth, we are able to employ Zenti’s flexible technology to develop and combine a large number and wide variety of predictors. Fifth, Zenti gives us the ability to screen over 100 million social media communications per day in real time to detect individuals at risk for suicidal behaviors. This represents a scope and reach large enough to have an impact on national and international rates of these behaviors. In short, with Zenti’s technology, we could revolutionize the ability to predict suicidal behaviors and immediately translate this ability into real world progress.


Identification of suicide decedents. For our initial project, we will use Zenti’s technology to formulate several theoretically-informed predictors (i.e., “classes” that we train using a supervised machine learning algorithm interface) and use these predictors to identify suicide decedents within a massive backlog of social media communications collected over the past few years. This project will allow us to develop and refine powerful tools for suicide prediction that will serve as a crucial foundation for subsequent projects.

Prediction of future suicidal behaviors. Drawing on the algorithms developed during our initial project, we will conduct a series of studies designed to further refine our ability to accurately predict future suicide ideation, plans, gestures, attempts, and deaths. Within each study we will recruit and follow thousands of at-risk individuals and repeatedly assess their suicidal behaviors. Each study will provide an opportunity to improve our algorithms, further reducing false positives and false negatives. By the end of this project, we hope to have generated algorithms that produce near-perfect accuracy.


Our ultimate goal is to identify thousands of people at high risk for suicidal behaviors each day in real time, and to immediately connect them with a brief, game-like treatment app that dramatically reduces their risk of engaging in these behaviors. We believe that Zenti’s technology will allow us to accomplish the first half of this goal, and our own recently developed treatment apps will allow us to accomplish the second half of this goal. If we are successful, we will ignite the first meaningful worldwide reduction in suicidal behavior.

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Hi I'm Kieran
I'm a proud husband, football fan and Dog Dad to @finchy_the_frenchie
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