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A Journey To Emotional (and Artificial) Intelligence Posted on : Jul 24 - 2020

For many entrepreneurs, starting their startup is the most significant thing they do. For Rana el Kaliouby, it’s one achievement in a series of unpredictable things that this self-described “nice Egyptian girl” has accomplished in her life. 

In her remarkable book Girl Decoded, el Kaliouby shares her inspiring academic and professional journey.  Alongside this, it is an intimate meditation about what it took from her personally to accomplish all that she has.

Born in Egypt to conservative Egyptian parents, the family spent several years in Kuwait and eventually fled back to Cairo when Iraq invaded Kuwait. Raised by her parents and grandparents, she ultimately got her Ph.D. from the University of Cambridge, barely pausing while giving birth to her first child. “I practically coded my way into the delivery room,” she said in her book. From there she was invited to the MIT Media lab to do her post-doc. She started Affectiva, an Emotion AI company, with cofounder Rosalind Picard stemming from their research, in 2009.

I asked her why she wrote the book. “It was a journey of self-reflection,” she told me. “I realized that my own personal story of overcoming the inner voice of doubt and reconciling my culture and who I want to be is a story of inspiration to many people out there.”

Her startup Affectiva, where she is now the CEO, creates artificial emotional intelligence (Emotion AI) software that detects “nuanced emotions, complex cognitive states, behaviors, activities, and interactions.” The technology is used by  25% of the Fortune Global 500 companies and is in 90 countries.

I asked her about her advice for startup leaders and for other pioneers like herself.

Work is important; relationships more so

El Kaliouby said that the mentors she had throughout her life were invaluable in helping push her when she needed it and overcome self-doubt. Her academic advisor Peter Robinson helped her navigate challenging experiences and her mentor at MIT Rosalind Picard became her cofounder of Affectiva.

After the success of her TED talk (which has 1.6 million views) and receiving the 2015 Ingenuity Award from the Smithsonian Institute she spoke to another key mentor who told her directly “You need to become the CEO.” Initially she couldn’t take that in, but he encouraged her to visualize the path she would need to take to get there and see herself as CEO in the mind’s eye. View More