Lifetime of Achievement: Rana el Kaliouby

Today Deputy CEO of Smart Eye, leading scientist and entrepreneur Rana el Kaliouby grew the company she co-founded, Affectiva, to be a leading AI innovator

Scientist, entrepreneur, angel investor, author, and AI thought leader Rana el Kaliouby is an Egyptian-American Scientist who co-founded Affectiva, a software company that built AI with an understanding of human emotions, cognitive states, activities and the objects people use.

Dedicated to the ethical development and deployment of AI, el Kaliouby is part of the Partnership of AI and the World Economic Forum’s Council of Young Global Leaders, driven by her passion for advocating for standards that ensure data privacy and mitigate both data and algorithmic bias.

A leader in the field of AI, el Kaliouby was Co-founder and CEO of Affectiva - an MIT spin-off and category-defining AI company - before it was acquired by Smart Eye in June 2021, and created the category of Emotion AI and grew the company to be a leading AI innovator. Today, she serves as its Deputy CEO.

Prior to founding Affectiva, she was a research scientist at MIT Media Lab where she spearheaded the applications of emotion recognition technology in a variety of fields, including mental health and autism research.

As el Kaliouby explained in an interview with Forbes, the idea being Affectiva came from her experiences communicating through technology. 

“My education and career pursuits led me to Cambridge and later MIT, which meant I spent a lot of time in front of devices communicating with family back home,” she explained. 

“There was very little face-to-face interaction and what struck me is that, although I was in constant touch with family and friends through technology, it was almost impossible to have any idea what was going on with my loved ones from an emotional and mental standpoint.

“It became clear to me that the majority of our communication is conveyed through non-verbal cues: facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. But, for the most part, those signals are lost when we’re on our smartphones and other devices. 

“When I got deeper into my research in computer science and AI, it became obvious that technology has a lot of cognitive intelligence (IQ), but no emotional intelligence (EQ). This is problematic not only for how we interface with technologies, but how we connect and communicate with one another.”

el Kaliouby is also an executive fellow at the Harvard Business School where she co-teaches about AI and startups. Her bestselling memoir, Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology (Penguin Random House, April 2020), follows el Kaliouby’s personal journey, growing up in the Middle East and moving to the United States to become an entrepreneur, juxtaposed against her work building Emotion AI.

She raised more than US$50m in venture capital from top-tier investors to bring Affectiva’s Emotion AI, built on deep learning, computer vision, speech science and massive amounts of real-world data, to more than 90 countries and several industries including the automotive industry and media analytics. Furthermore, el Kaliouby has a track record of translating technology innovations into products that address the needs of massive international markets and spearheading the application of Emotion AI to market research, automotive, mental health, autism, conversational interfaces, robotics and education.

“I am very passionate about the ethical development and deployment of AI, including advocating for standards and thoughtful regulation to ensure data privacy and to mitigate data and algorithmic bias,” el Kaliouby says. “To help establish best practices, compliance and regulation for AI ethics, I am part of industry organisations like the Partnership on AI and the World Economic Forum.”

As one of few women at the forefront of an AI company, el Kaliouby is a strong advocate for diversity and inclusion in tech and leadership. To help catalyse change and improve equity industry-wide, she is a member of the Boston Steering Committee for All Raise and a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO). She is also a Venture Partner of the MIT Media Lab E14 Fund, a Board Member of SIMPEDs at Boston Children’s Hospital, and a Board of Trustees member at the American University in Cairo, the leading liberal arts university in the Middle East.

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