Introducing Zaher

Meet Zaher, one of our talented research data specialists with a passion for turning creative software skills towards boundary-pushing projects at the intersection of art, science, and technology that can benefit humans and animals alike.

Hi Zaher! Can you please tell us a bit about your career trajectory so far?

I hold a bachelor’s degree in Informatics Engineering (University of Aleppo) and a master’s degree in Information Technology (Unimelb). Over the past ten years, I have worked in industry and academia in projects that involve visual computing, mixed reality, image processing, and machine learning. Some of the most interesting Unimelb SocialNUI projects that I have been involved in include Kinecting with Orangutan, Biometric Mirror, and Augmented Studio.

In Kinecting with Orangutan, I built touchless screen and video games aiming at providing digital enrichments for the Orangutans at Melbourne Zoo. I presented the controversial face-profiling AI Biometric Mirror at the World Bank and the World Economic Forum in 2019. And I helped to develop an augmented reality on-moving-body projection system (described by Daily Mail as ‘Zombie Projector’) for physiotherapy teaching in the Augmented Studio.

I joined MDAP in June 2019. It has been the most enriching time in my life since then.

“I am very fortunate to be part of a team of brilliant people from across the disciplines who were brought together for the first time in a new way to push the boundaries and support digital research at the University.”

I hope to bring my skills in video and image processing to MDAP and help build a Community of Practice in computer vision for third spacers at the University of Melbourne.

Tell us about an interesting or challenging problem in your time with MDAP?

At MDAP, we engage with researchers from all disciplines across the University, including many with which we are previously unfamiliar — this is both exciting and challenging.

I am leading one of the current collaborations with Dr Ben Schultz and Prof Adam Vogel from the Centre for Neuroscience of Speech, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry & Health Sciences. Together, we are using machine learning to classify speech patterns for neurodegenerative diseases and to broaden the utility of speech biometrics by examining how acoustic features of speech differ between diseases and how composite features may strengthen these measures.

What are some of the solvable, difficult, or wicked problems on your horizon?

Building a Community of Practice and gathering people around a common vision and goal is sometimes very hard but certainly achievable. I am currently working to bring together third-spacers who work in video and image processing at the University of Melbourne. If you identify as a ‘third-spacer’ and/or research software engineer at the University, let’s connect.

Tell us about your latest adventure outside of MDAP.

The most memorable ‘adventure’ for me was attending the World Economic Forum in Dalian, China with my CIS colleagues last year. We presented the Biometric Mirror as one of only three projects on display during the week. We had more than 2000 people visit our booth, and discussed the ethics in AI with many tens of the attendees including politicians and ministers from all around the world!

Biometric Mirror is an ethically provocative interactive system that enables public participation in the debate around ethics of artificial intelligence. Check out a video of this project. Image: Biometric Mirror

In the context of a rapidly evolving global environment and the University’s approach to research, what would you most like to explore, challenge, or innovate in your work in the future?

I plan to broaden my skill set and the scope of my work at MDAP, particularly into the medical domain and other domains that directly address current environmental challenges in the world. I am looking for short-term projects to help flight the current COVID-19 pandemic. I am also very much looking forward to working on new collaborations in 2020.