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Creating Emotionally Intelligent Technology

Egyptian-American computer scientist Rana el Kaliouby co-founded her company Affectiva while undertaking a Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Specializing in “Emotion AI,” a subsect of artificial intelligence, Kaliouby wants to teach computers how to recognize and quantify human emotions. Technology has created an “empathy crisis,” Kaliouby says — and her mission is to humanize it. One of the early applications of Emotion AI that Kaliouby explored was tech-enabled glasses to help children with autism read facial expressions. The glasses offered prompts to the wearer, telling them how to respond to various non-verbal cues like smiling or frowning. “We started to see a lot of really positive improvements in these kids; it was just really powerful,” says Kaliouby. After years of research and development, the technology was officially launched in 2017 for integration into smart glasses such as Google Glass. The company has grown from a university spin-out into an international, multi-million dollar enterprise with headquarters in Boston. But Kaliouby maintains close ties with Egypt, and Affectiva employs about 60 people at its Cairo office, including software engineers and machine learning scientists.