WHO Unveils First Digital Health Worker to Fight Covid-19 and Smoking

The World Health Organization (WHO) unveiled its first digital health worker as part of a global initiative to convince the world’s more than one billion tobacco users to quit smoking, share life-saving information during the coronavirus pandemic and combat misinformation about the coronavirus.

Developed by New Zealand technology company, Soul Machines, Florence is what is known as an avatar, a virtual brain behind the virtual body.

“Florence isn’t trying to trick you that she’s a real person. Florence is saying I’m a digital person, I’m here to help. Florence is digital. There is no judgment involved, so the lack of human judgment actually makes our digital people more approachable and potentially more helpful,” said Greg Cross, Soul Machines co-founder.

The human brain behind the concept, is Professor Mark Sagar who started out by developing “Baby X” – using an image of his own child to create virtual humans that can respond to people in real time.

Florence is designed to warn the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users about the dangers of smoking, and also about the risks of getting seriously ill from Covid-19. The avatar is also programmed to correct myths about COVID-19.

Digital assistants like Florence are expected to become even more popular in the future because Covid-19 has forced so many people to live and work from home. And there’s no limit to the possibilities, with areas including health and education already being utilized.

For Soul Machines, creating Florence for the WHO is about making a difference. Now, around 150 people based in New Zealand and the United States work on research and development, and demand for digital workers has increased due to Covid-19.

“It’s humbling, and it’s incredibly exciting in terms of anything that we’ve done so far as a company,” said Cross.

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