Rana el Kaliouby, Ph.D., is co-founder and CEO of Affectiva and author of the insightful new book: Girl Decoded.
Girl Decoded is both a personal memoir and a primer on AI—why did you write it?
When I first set out to write Girl Decoded, my goal was to evangelize human-centric technology and advance the AI industry. But as I reflected on my path to humanize technology, I realized that my professional mission – and the work of Affectiva, the company I co-founded – was so closely tied to my own personal journey. I knew that I had a more universal story to share about perseverance and embracing your emotions.
I’ve spent my career teaching computers to read emotions, pioneering technology called artificial emotional intelligence (Emotion AI). But, I wasn’t always in tune with my own emotions. For the longest time, I didn’t embrace them – I thought it was easier to push them out. Writing Girl Decoded forced me to reflect on my emotions at different points in my professional and personal life. I’ve realized the power of being open about your emotions, and finding your voice – first with yourself, and then sharing that with others. It’s only when we share our emotions that we’re really able to connect with one another.
My hope is that Girl Decoded will encourage people to embrace their emotions, and use them to form empathetic connections with others – whether we’re communicating in virtual worlds (especially amidst the global pandemic) or in-person.
Why is “Learning Human” so difficult for some companies?
In business, there tends to be an emphasis on quantifiable business goals, KPIs and data-driven decisions. Those metrics are obviously important, but oftentimes the human element of work gets overlooked – both in how leaders interact with employees, and how people interact with clients/partners. Another issue that some companies may face is that ego can get in the way of empathetic leadership. But I feel strongly that empathetic leadership is essential, especially in the times we’re living in now – and you don’t have to be a C-Suite exec to lead with empathy.
At Affectiva, our mission is to humanize technology. So, naturally, one of our company’s core values is human connection. We attribute our success to being open, collaborative, and striving to build meaningful relationships with the people we interact with – both internally as well as with our clients and partners. I’ve always believed that it’s ok to bring your emotions and your whole self to work. So, we’ve built a culture where, in our dealings with peers and partners, we’re empathetic and mindful of the fact that people may have things going on in their lives outside of work.
In this tumultuous period, what should AI entrepreneurs and innovators be doing now to attract funding and launch a product or service?
Right now, we’re completely reinventing the way we work, the way our kids learn, and the way we socialize – especially as those things are now taking place at home for many of us.
As challenging as this is to navigate, I believe these shifts will open the door for innovation. So, AI entrepreneurs and innovators should be thinking about how their technology can help address the challenges and changes presented by this new normal.
For example, with everything now shifting to virtual, I think we’ll see an increasing need for companies to understand engagement and their emotional impact on customers as they interact online. And, consumers will crave more meaningful interactions with technology, and by extension, with one another. That creates a market opportunity for companies like Affectiva, and others in the Emotion AI space, to explore use cases of our technology that will incorporate emotional intelligence into online interactions.
Finally, even in this tumultuous time, the fundamental principles of attracting funding or launching a product still stand. It’s important to have a well thought through plan for developing products or services that will solve a specific problem. And along the way, there must be clear goals and milestones in order to keep your team focused, and prove that you’re delivering on those objectives.