This week brought the second installment of our Disruptor Series of events telling the stories of people making waves and changing perceptions in Boston and beyond. Our latest session invited Egyptian-American visionary and scientist Rana el Kaliouby to share her inspiring story, as told in her new memoir "Girl Decoded."
Rana, who spoke on the topic of ethics in tech during HubWeek 2019, is not only an accomplished researcher on the subject of artificial emotional intelligence (aka emotion AI), she's also the co-founder and CEO of software startup Affectiva. She joined us to share an up-close-and-personal look at her life and career following her calling to humanize our technology and how we connect with one another.
Growing up as a Muslim woman in Egypt and Kuwait, Rana was extremely focused on furthering her education. Unlike many other traditional families, both of her parents worked, and her mother was one of the early women to take on technology in the Middle East. From an early age, Rana was intrigued by technology and how it affects us all. She chose to study computer science as an undergraduate and graduated top of her class, with her sights set on a career in academia.
That all changed after she moved to the University of Cambridge to study for her Ph.D. Newly married and away from home for the first time, she was reminded of the richness of all our nonverbal communication while texting her husband. This was her "aha moment" — she imagined what it would be like if we could redesign technology to unlock all the things that make us human.
Later, when Rana learned about research that was being done for autism, she had another "aha moment," one that inspired her to turn the research on its head and use technology to help autistic children. This project is what ultimately brought Rana to the U.S. to work with Rosalind Picard of MIT, author of Affective Computing and Rana's co-founder at Affectiva.
Along her academic and entrepreneurial journey, Rana learned a lot about herself and the world. Here are just a few of the takeaways she shared with us:
If you missed out on the conversation, or want to revisit parts of Rana's story, you can watch a recording of the session in the video below.