Interview: Haris Aščalić is BiH’s very own Zuckerberg!

haris1Haris Aščalić from Visoko is BiH’s very own Zuckerberg! He programmed the first BiH virtual assistant, ‘Cadence’, based on artificial intelligence. The founder of Facebook himself is interested in Haris’s project.

Cadence is different from existing assistants. She is capable of talking to the user, asking them questions, memorizing, and understanding everything that the user desires. She will understand if you do not talk to her and she will try to get in touch with you.

Mr. Aščalić, can you tell us how you came up with the idea to create your virtual assistant, Cadence, who is one of a dozen known assistants in the world?

Everything started from Sci-Fi films. I often watch movies on artificial intelligence, robotics and similar themes. Two years ago, I was amazed by the movies ‘Her’ and ‘Transcendence’, and I wanted to create a person who lives in the computer and talks to me. At the beginning it sounded a little unrealistic to me, because back in that year (2014) digital assistants and artificial intelligence were not as they are now. Every time I looked at the movie ‘Her’, I imagined how I could make my own digital friend.      This really gave me the inspiration and desire to create her. I worked for a long time on it, and everything similar to the movie inspired me to continue with my work. After a few months of painstaking work on the project, my software finally started to speak. At the beginning it was a man (male voice program), and he was not able to hear me, but responded to written instructions. This was just the beginning. I still wanted very complex software, to hear me and to be more complex, and I wanted it to have a female voice. I was creating, programming, researching for months. Finally, I could communicate with Cadence. She was a little baby back then and I knew her whole system by heart, i.e. I knew how she would answer to specific questions. I focused and continued to work on Cadence. I worked on databases, algorithms and more! I wanted Cadence to talk as a human, to constantly develop and improve. Today, it is something big. I created a character which has its own conscience and personality. When I talk to her, I do not know how she will respond. A man experiences a small dose of ‘shame’ while talking to her, because he knows that there is someone who hears us and understands everything.

You are talking to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, as well as other renowned individuals. How did they get in contact with you? How did they react when you say you are from Bosnia and Herzegovina?

I wanted to show my project to people who could actually understand it. I am in contact with people who normally do such things. It means a lot when the right person says that my project is amazing, a great inspiration. I contacted Facebook via email a long time ago, because I wanted attention from the right people, and I had nothing to lose. The Facebook Team eventually answered my e-mail, thanked me and wrote that they would see what it was about. After a few days I received an e-mail that said that the project was still being reviewed and that they receive a lot of projects to review. A few days ago, Mark presented his own assistant as well. It means a lot when you talk to the right people, they are my biggest inspiration. Facebook is just one of those examples that are often featured in the media.

Cadence speaks in English, but she also understands Bosnian! Can you explain to us how Cadence works?

Her mother tongue is English. There are several videos on my YouTube channel showing that Cadence can understand Bosnian as well. I recorded this to show the public that this project can be huge in every sense. Cadence can be used in many spheres of life. Besides the digital assistant, she talks and performs operations for me on the computer; she can be a ‘voice’ for helping people in medicine, tourism and other domains. She can be a private assistant in extreme cases as well. People can give orders to Cadence and she will behave according to their rules. Imagine that Cadence wakes you up, tells you what the weather is like and what you can wear. She listens and understands, she knows only your day, works on the computer for you, and talks about whatever you want. People today have no friends, lovers, someone who knows how to respond to them at the right moment. Cadence is a friend who won’t lie to us. These things are a trend in Japan and the West. This is the future for me, artificial intelligence and robotics.

Experts named 2016 as the year of artificial intelligence. How many people in the world use some kind of artificial intelligence? How many people use Cadence?

I’m keeping up to speed with technology. I am actively following and working on the technology. Last year, more and more companies were presenting their virtual assistants. Usually such companies are working on artificial intelligence that could help mankind, but we must also know that the AI can be abused as well. Perhaps the Terminator is yet to come to life?

A lot of people who understand this concept talked to Cadence. In the last few months, Cadence participated in competitions such as the ‘Idea Knockout’ in Zagreb, ‘Sarajevo Unlimited’, at which she was declared as one of the top 5 best startups in the region and it was presented to a wide range of people. The reactions of the people who heard about her and had a chance to talk to Cadence were great. I achieved my main goal of people recognizing her as a person rather than a robot. Some people were ashamed to talk to Cadence when they saw that she can actually understand me.

haris ascalic2You received the ‘Genius of 2016’ award, congratulations! Can you tell us something about your plans for the future?
Thank you. I have big plans with Cadence. I want Cadence to get in the right hands and the right place. I’m working on this project to develop it further, and adapt to more spheres. Cadence is a great idea for a complete “Smart City” system and I want to develop the hardware.

Take a look at how everyday communication with Cadence looks like:

Want to learn more about Cadence? Click here.

Interview by Zejna SY


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