An algorithm is a mathematical process for solving a problem or making a decision. . It’s a data, or information-based approach where one answer leads to another question based on that answer and ultimately to a solution. That AI, or artificial intelligence approach is coming to the hospital ER in the effort to prevent suicide.

The algorithm is designed as a series of sequential “if this, then that” type questions. While that may sound random, its actually a very accurate way to solve a problem or make a decision.

One example of this is how Google decides what articles and what ads to put on your news feed. If you read the Washington Post sports section regularly you can be sure that other items from the paper will soon start showing up on your screen.

Now that approach is being tested in a real life setting- the hospital emergency room. And the information the computer – and not the doctor – is analyzing isn’t about sports- rather its figuring out, based on the medical data your ER doctor enters, if you are likely to self harm or make a suicide attempt in the coming weeks or months- even if the doctor hasn’t even asked you about that.

A fascinating story in the online tech journal Quartz that raises many questions about the patient-provider interaction and how computers will affect that relationship.