An innovative scientist’s memoir explores her quest to humanize technology.
El Kaliouby, who grew up in Egypt and Kuwait in a conservative family, is the co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, an “AI startup spun off from the MIT Media Lab.” Tracing her journey from academic to global industry leader, the author describes her creation of a new realm of computer science, one that integrates artificial intelligence with emotional intelligence (EI). The author, “a child of the computer age,” charts an impressive research path from her doctoral studies at Cambridge University to postdoctoral work at MIT to the private sector. El Kaliouby, a self-described nice Egyptian girl, candidly shares her successes and challenges alongside passionate insights about gender and culture. She also unpacks how drive and determination can stretch imagination, documenting how she helped to design and build facial detection elements to enhance the mechanics of AI with emotion. Based on existing digital connectivity, the author sees AI–EI integration as an inevitability rather than an option. However, she doesn’t make a case so much as explain how the ghost may fit in the machine. The narrative is a fairly one-sided, optimistic view that may not convince critics or digital minimalists, but it should also help inspire like-minded thinkers to continue to innovate. Citing numerous potential benefits that include responding to declining empathy rates and prospective medical applications, el Kaliouby outlines her company’s emphasis on upholding high ethical standards and protecting privacy. The author misses a few opportunities for deep reflection on nuanced concerns such as technology addiction, potential conflicts between corporate interests and public trust, and the implications of expecting machines to respond rather than just compute. Though somewhat unbalanced, the book effectively conveys her goal of improving people’s lives through technology that is sensitive to human sentiment.
A decent encapsulation of the early stages of a possible visionary path forward with AI.