Artificial Intelligence, Covid19, News, Technology

WHO’s First AI Health Worker for Quitting Tobacco Initiative

Mimi Sarwar

Mimi Sarwar, Writer

The WHO is taking on an AI initiative to get the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users to kick the habit and quit for good. Let’s meet Florence, their first virtual health worker.

We’ve seen a rise of artificial intelligence (AI) tools taking the main stage in the technological world and changing our world for the better. It’s driving innovation has helped excel areas such as climate change, agriculture and education through to health care. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has now stepped in to utilise Florence, their first virtual health worker, as an indispensable tool to tackle quitting tobacco head-on. Quitting smoking is more important than ever as evidence reveals that smokers are more vulnerable than non-smokers to developing a severe case of COVID-19

The AI health worker was developed by San Francisco and New Zealand based Digital People company Soul Machines, with Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud supporting them.

COVID-19 Mythbusters

Florence uses AI to demystify a plethora of common publicised myths surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and helps tobacco users develop a personalised program to quit smoking. She can also fast track users to helplines or apps to further facilitate their journey of giving up their habit, interacting with her via video or text. 

As a free tool for users worldwide, Florence aims to positively assist those who want to quit but have limited access to the tools they need to end their dependence on smoking such as counsellors. Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) which includes skin patches, tablets, chewing gum, e-cigarettes or nasal and mouth spray may also be challenging to access hence the need for an AI tool like Florence. She’s an on-hand tool explaining vital health-related information in an easy-to-understand style without being bothersome.

The STAR approach to quitting

Florence uses the ‘STAR’ method to help users begin their course of kicking the habit. The AI tool defines its program by following the steps as: 

Set a quit date. 

The tool emphasises on the importance of setting an achievable quit date. If tobacco users give themselves a short period to end their habit, this could help keep them focused on achieving their goal rather than leaving the intention open-ended which could result in loss of motivation and drive. 

Tell friends, family, and work colleagues. 

Informing people the user has frequent interaction with is important. Sharing their pledge to kick the habit with others may make it a more real experience whilst boosting their confidence, determination, and willpower.

Anticipate challenges before the expected quit attempt. 

The first few weeks are usually the most challenging due to possible nicotine withdrawal symptoms and cravings, mood swings and increased stress. 

Remove tobacco products from their surroundings. 

Creating a smoke-free environment by clearing items related and associated with smoking will also be a step towards the quitting program. Avoiding public smoking areas and requesting peers to not smoke in the same vicinity will support the user’s quit goal.

Helping human-to-machine interaction to progress

The WHO has expressed that the AI tool is to be as natural, engaging and fun as possible so that users have a pleasing user experience (UX) with it. By conversing with Florence via video, the encounter will involve looking at not just what users say but also how they say it. The goal is to leverage the human-to-machine interaction and overall experience so that Florence can learn to interpret human expressions and messages in a more realistic manner by responding with appropriate real-time information based on her understanding.

Depending on AI

It seems that the outbreak has contributed positively to the world of AI, revolutionising it in a short space of time. Florence the AI health care assistant is a ground-breaking tool that may redefine the way health care is administered, strengthen users experience and ensure the pervasiveness of user’s health when it comes to smoking. 

AI is proving to be an indispensable tool for the future we are moving towards. We recognise the need to enable a better tomorrow for our society and planet and AI provides intuitive ways of solving challenges whilst enriching life. 

The WHO’s decision to step up and take artificial intelligence onboard was only a matter of time and it seems like they will reach out and help thousands if not millions of smokers worldwide in a bid to get their quitting tobacco initiative underway.

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