Emotion AI: How Emotionally Intelligent Computers Can Benefit Society


Rana el Kaliouby is Deputy CEO of Smart Eye and co-founder of Affectiva, a technology company developing emotion artificial intelligence (AI) software that enables machines to detect human emotions and complex cognitive states. AI is developing fast, and with many potential applications in the world of communications technology and connected devices, we spoke with Rana at the Arch Summit in Luxembourg to learn how emotion AI can impact the way people learn, work and monitor their health. 

“In the future, our technology is going to interact with us in the way we interact with one another,” says Rana el Kaliouby. “It’s going to be perceptive, empathetic, emotional and social. And there are so many applications for that.”

Technology: a black hole for emotions               

When Rana el Kaliouby moved from Cairo to study at the University of Cambridge in 2000, working to build emotionally intelligent machines as part of a PhD in computer vision and machine learning, her husband remained in Egypt.

They would keep in touch through instant messaging platforms, as international calls were too expensive and video conferencing didn’t exist. Rana, alone with her laptop, was homesick. And her laptop had no clue.

 “It dawned on me how completely insensitive computers are to our emotional state. I was messaging home, but there was no way for me to genuinely transmit how I felt. Technology was a black hole for emotions – all the richness of nonverbal communication that we as humans use to build empathy, love, loyalty and trust was gone. That sent me on a journey to bring emotional intelligence into our machines.”

The commercial opportunity for emotionally intelligent devices

After Cambridge, Rana took her ideas to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where she joined Dr Rosalind Picard’s lab.

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