Croatian Artificial Intelligence: Siri Who? Meet Barica

This unique system from Croatia speaks Croatian and its possibilities can also be applied in tourism, trade, the hospitality industry, and even further. Meet Barica.

As Poslovni Dnevnik/Sergej Novosel Vuckovic writes on the 6th of December, 2019, a lot of physical work and skills in assembling components and an enormous mental effort with the application of expert knowledge led to Barica. Or – as it was born – B.A.R.I.C.A.

In the continental Croatian town of Varaždin, more specifically at the Faculty of Organisation and Informatics (FOI), Barica was ”baptised” as artificial intelligence by the ”father” Prof. Dr. Markus Schatten from FOI, and the “mother”, former student Tajana Šokec.

The entire team of scientists and students within AILab at FOI is also responsible for Barica coming into the world. The ”being” in question has a name which signifies something in English: Beautiful ARtificial Intelligence Cognitive Agent (the acronym B.A.R.I.C.A., or Barica as it’s informally known). It is a cognitive artificial intelligence agent who currently resides in the aforementioned Varaždin faculty’s hall, where it informs students and visitors about professors, schedules and more.

”The ”culprit” responsible for the creation of the system is Tomislav Kotnik, editor-in-chief of Vidi magazine, who asked me to give a lecture on artificial intelligence at the BIG3 conference. He asked me if I could use some attractive avatar/chat bot/artificial intelligence. After searching for solutions that were not satisfactory, I decided to implement my own artificial intelligence, which will speak to me in Croatian during a lecture.

One sleepless weekend later, the first version of Barica was born. I showed the system to my colleagues and students and it aroused great interest from them. At the Faculty of Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (AILab), we refined and expanded it, and the even the board fell victim to Barica’s charm, so it received an official ”workplace” at the faculty,” explained Schatten, emphasising the merits of everyone on the team, as well as the aforementioned Tajana Šokec, who also received an award in regard to Barica.

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Schatten himself implemented the framework of the system, and this first required a Hadwer modification, which included what could be referred to as a kind of carpentry work. An old makeup cabinet was purchased, as was an old television, a bakelite telephone and a computer.

“I bought some stuff that had already been used through ads, I found some stuff in the trash, everything is completely recycled parts, except for a monitor bought by the college. I repaired the makeup cabinet, removed the mirror, disassembled the TV and shortened it down, installed the monitor, disassembled the phone, connected the headphones to the PC cable and mounted it all, everything was turned white to give a quasi shabby chic and retro look, so the physical incarnation was created in a month and a half,” the Varazdin professor explained, adding that the software part, which is more intellectual, lasted about half a year and that the idea was still developing.

Technologically and software-wise, Barica, has a system for text-to-speech, a natural language processing system, speech synthesis, generated video expression for the face and lips (lip sync, animation made with a tool from an ordinary static image), faculty knowledge and a graphical interface. One of Barica’s most important features is that it works in the Croatian language, which was the main reason for its emergence, as such systems are very rare, as was pointed out by the lecturer of Theoretical and Applied Fundamentals of Information Sciences of FOI.

“I have no information that there is any similar system in Croatia in higher education institutions,” he stated. Barica answers four questions as a basic aid to students and that is its main function, but Schatten says she has a much larger vocabulary and that the plans are to work on that.

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Could Barica or maybe some future T.E.F. become a ”professor” and thus replace him and other people?

“So far, only partially. The technology of talking agents like Barica and artificial intelligence generally has its limitations. We can do a lot, but we can’t do much moe [than we have]. A (good) system can give a lecture and even respond to students’ questions related to the material, but it cannot respond to unforeseen situations or creatively solve a new problem. Although artificial intelligence technology seems to be very close to human intelligence, we’re still very far from it. This, of course, doesn’t mean that very useful systems cannot be built with the help of artificial intelligence,” concluded Prof.Dr. Markus Schatten.

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