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A New Approach to Kicking the Habit

Personal coaching plus nicotine replacement therapy appears to be the most surefire way to stop smoking. Can't commit to costly counseling? A computer scientist from the University of Twente in the Netherlands may have just the solution: a virtual coach.

Betsy van Dijk's team is developing a smoking cessation "chatbot." The companion will mimic the facial expressions, gestures and empathetic responses of a female counselor. Just log on, and the chatbot will appear in an instant messaging pop-up window.

"A chatbot won't be better than a human," van Dijk notes. But it'll be free, anonymous and always there. In any case, she says, "a virtual coach is certainly better than no coach at all."

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