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Rana el Kaliouby: What if computers could read our emotions?

Published: 17th September, 2020 at 19:50
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Rana el Kaliouby believes that software needs to be able to detect our emotions and cognitive states. She explains how she’s teaching AI to do just that.

For many, the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown restrictions has isolated us from the people we love, reducing our social life to screens and Zoom meetings. But even with the added visual, communicating online still isn’t as straightforward as being in-person. It can feel like jokes fall flat when everyone has their microphone off, and the jittering of poor signal can make anyone’s face hard to read.


But what if our computers could read and respond to our emotions? If the engagement of a virtual meeting could be shown on-screen to generate a buzz like the one of a live audience?

That’s just one possibility of a future with emotionally intelligent machines. Researcher and CEO Rana el Kaliouby believes that by teaching computers to read facial expressions, they could detect early signs of Parkinson’s, prevent drivers from getting behind the wheel when tired, or help teachers design educational programmes that keep kids engaged.

Rana speaks to us about making machines empathetic, being named by Forbes as one of America's top 50 women in tech, and how her research into human emotions has affected her personal life.

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Amy BarrettEditorial Assistant, BBC Science Focus

Amy is the Editorial Assistant at BBC Science Focus. Her BA degree specialised in science publishing and she has been working as a journalist since graduating in 2018. In 2020, Amy was named Editorial Assistant of the Year by the British Society of Magazine Editors. She looks after all things books, culture and media. Her interests range from natural history and wildlife, to women in STEM and accessibility tech.


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