WHO uses AI-based digital health worker Florence to help people quit smoking

[NZBusiness describes a promising application of technology that can create social presence with a virtual person to help people quit smoking (note there are links to two videos at the end). Co-founder and chief business officer of the New Zealand company that created the technology, Greg Cross, comments further in other coverage:

From NZHub:

“We would call Florence a digital person,” Greg Cross, co-founder of Soul Machines, told Morning Report.

“She’s a CGI creation just as we see in the movies, but what’s unique about Florence and other digital people like her is she is … autonomously animated by a digital brain. You’re having a face-to-face interaction with a digital person.

“One of the things we know from our day-to-day lives is we learn to build relationships, we learn to build trust, with face to face interactions.

“Florence and digital people go way beyond what chatbots and voice assistants can do in terms of emotional connection and emotional engagement with us.”

“The objective here is not to fool people that they’re talking to a real person, the objective here is to create a face-to-face interaction.”

The ‘digital brain’ allows Florence to interact and respond in real time, he said, such as recognising a smile and smiling back.

In many cases humans actually prefer to speak to a digital person, he said.

“If you failed to give up smoking 10 times, you’re probably going to be reluctant to talk to anybody about giving up smoking again because there is always that of human judgement.

“When you’re talking to a digital person there is no judgement.”

The technology also allows the digital health worker to speak to as many people who want to at any one point in time, he said. “You’re not going to sit in a queue for half an hour waiting for somebody to pick up the phone and answer your question.”

From SmartCompany:

“My co-founder and I have long held the view that education and healthcare would be some of the most exciting use cases for our technology,” he adds.

Securing a high-profile partnership at a time of global crisis like this one is a way to show how Soul Machines’ technology can make a positive impact on the world, he says.

“There are not many times in your career you get to say you’ve created a technology that could have an impact on 1 billion people,” he says.


“The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the need for every company, every industry, every government to look into digital platforms, and at the way they deliver product and service knowledge to their customers in a world where face-to-face interaction can be riskier,” Cross explains.

Previously, corporations have talked about digital transformation. Now, we’re squarely in the digital era, he says.

“I don’t think you can plan that the world is going to go back to the way it was anytime soon,” he adds.

This entire WHO deal was put together and finalised over video calls, for example.

Mere months ago, “you wouldn’t have dreamed of putting a deal together like this without face to face interaction”, Cross says.

“It goes to show how far we’ve come, and how much we’ve already had to adapt to the new normal.”

For more information see a 57 minute Business is Boring podcast interview with Cross. –Matthew]

Soul Machines joins forces with WHO

New Zealand-based company Soul Machines has joined forces with the World Health Organization to combat Covid-19 misinformation and help more than one billion tobacco users quit.

14 July 2020

Soul Machines – the AGI company that enables organisations to fully utilise the interaction of human and machine collaboration – has joined the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Access Initiative (AI) for Quitting Tobacco to help share WHO’s life-saving information during the COVID-19 pandemic, combat misinformation, reduce the risk of Covid-19 and help over one billion tobacco users quit.

Florence (pictured above), the WHO’s first digital health worker, was created using Soul Machines technology and WHO technical guidance, with support from Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud. Florence will help provide clarity and expel damaging myths around Covid-19, and will specifically address smoking and its consequences – heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and respiratory diseases – all of which are comorbidities with Covid-19.

With Florence, smokers can engage with a digital health worker to develop a quit plan and rely on a trusted source anytime and anyplace, to help them feel confident to reach their quit goals.

Initially available in English, Florence will, over time, be available in all six official UN languages.

Smokers are more exposed to the Covid-19 virus and are at greater risk of having severe disease complications. Although around 60 percent of the 1.3 billion tobacco users globally want to quit, only 30 percent of them have access to tools that can help them quit.

As a digital health worker for WHO, Florence will help give the increasing numbers of people globally who have a desire to quit smoking during the COVID-19 pandemic a new, safe, easily accessible and engaging channel. Florence is able to scale seamlessly and to talk to many individual people around the world and is available 24/7 with no wait times, as a simple video stream from the cloud to any device. This frees up critical people resources and provides a user-friendly solution to an overwhelming demand for clear, concise information that can be relied on.

“We are pleased to partner with the WHO to help reimagine the massive challenge of how to scale health communication in a high-trust way as cases of Covid-19 continue to rise globally,” says Soul Machines co-founder and chief business officer Greg Cross.

“The next-generation technology used by Florence will help the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users access the reliable information they need to quit tobacco – helping to protect them from a potentially severe case of COVID-19 and many other diseases,” adds Dr Ruediger Krech, Director of Health Promotion, WHO.

Florence represents a reimagining of how technology and AI can serve as a robust and efficient health communications and engagement platform. Over time, AI for quitting tobacco will help millions of people improve their health and save lives.

Soul Machines, which also has a base in San Francisco, is committed to a continued exploration of this health mission on a global scale to help people take a more proactive role in their well-being and better and more easily manage their own health by engaging with trusted information.

“We congratulate the WHO on leading the world in the application of AI in public health,” says Cross. “Bold innovation is required to help close the gap in access to healthcare. Florence will play an essential role – she will share the WHO’s life-saving information to improve the health of people when services across the globe are under extreme pressure.”

For more information on Florence, visit: https://www.who.int/health-topics/tobacco/ai-for-quitting-tobacco-initiative(link is external)

Here are two videos that show Florence in her role as a digital health worker for the World Health Organisation:

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