Rana el Kaliouby — AI, Emotional Intelligence, and the Journey of Finding Oneself (#423)

Rana el Kaliouby and Tim Ferriss

“Embrace your emotions.”

Rana el Kaliouby

A pioneer in Emotion AI, Rana el Kaliouby, PhD (@Kaliouby), is co-founder and CEO of Affectiva, and author of the new book Girl Decoded: A Scientist’s Quest to Reclaim Our Humanity by Bringing Emotional Intelligence to Technology.

A passionate advocate for humanizing technology, ethics in AI, and diversity, Rana has been recognized on Fortune magazine’s 40 Under 40 list and as one of Forbes magazine’s Top 50 Women in Tech. Rana is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader and a newly minted Young Presidents’ Organization member. She co-hosted the PBS series NOVA Wonders, and appears in the YouTube Originals Series The Age of A.I. hosted by Robert Downey, Jr.

Rana holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and did her postdoctoral research at MIT.

Please enjoy!

You can find the transcript of this episode here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

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This podcast is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs and 5-Bullet Friday.  More on both below. 

#423: Rana el Kaliouby — AI, Emotional Intelligence, and The Journey of Finding Oneself

This episode is brought to you by LinkedIn Jobs. Whether you are looking to hire now for a critical role or thinking about needs that you may have in the future, LinkedIn Jobs can help. LinkedIn is an active community with more than 675 million members worldwide. LinkedIn screens candidates for the hard and soft skills you’re looking for and puts your job in front of candidates looking for job opportunities that match what you have to offer.

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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear an episode with another inspiring entrepreneur striving to make the world a better place? Listen to my conversation with Patrick Collison in which we discuss the joys of reading, how to improve one’s decision-making process, and much more. 

#353: Patrick Collison — CEO of Stripe


Connect with Rana el Kaliouby:

Website | LinkedIn | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


  • How did the book Affective Computing by Rosalind Picard — and meeting the author — change Rana’s life? [04:35]
  • How did Rana manage to live in Cairo with a husband and two kids and commute to her job in Boston? [09:35]
  • Rana gives us a glimpse of her family life growing up in Egypt. [13:18]
  • What prompted Rana’s decision to wear a hijab in her 20s, and why did she eventually stop? [18:26]
  • How does Rana define artificial intelligence, and why is she an advocate for bringing EQ into the equation? [22:37]
  • What led Rana to work with artificial intelligence on a more human level, and how can it be used to help people who are on the autism spectrum? [25:53]
  • In what ways does Rana foresee this technology helping in the mental health field — particularly for people suffering from depression? [32:56]
  • What other applications is Rana excited to explore with facial mapping technology? [36:33]
  • How does Rana feel about the potential for this technology to be used as a lie-detector test? [38:35]
  • What has Rana learned about her own emotions in the process of trying to teach computers how to understand emotions? [41:46]
  • What common misconceptions do people have about emotion, and how has talking about it evolved over the past few decades? [45:54]
  • What it was like for Rana and Roz to pitch to potential investors for Affectiva in the male-dominated world of Silicon Valley — with Rana’s six-month-old in tow. [47:40]
  • Where did funding eventually come from, and how enthusiastic were the investors who said yes? [52:32]
  • How might this technology be used for dating? [55:59]
  • Rana shares her journaling tools and habits. [1:00:05]
  • Books Rana gifts most and recommends (and one I’m enjoying at the moment). [1:04:41]
  • What compelled Rana to write Girl Decoded, and what did she learn in the course of writing it? [1:12:55]
  • What about Rana’s relationship with her father has gone unsaid that she’d like to convey to him? [1:19:33]
  • What would it take for Rana to consider Girl Decoded a success? [1:20:59]
  • Why diversity in data collection and ethics in tech are crucial. [1:23:28]
  • What would Rana’s billboard say? [1:29:36]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:30:58]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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9 Replies to “Rana el Kaliouby — AI, Emotional Intelligence, and the Journey of Finding Oneself (#423)”

  1. Tim,
    Great story about this exceptional CS person, sadly focusing her amazing gift on detecting (helping to manipulate?) “consumer behavior”. There was all this talk about helping in healthcare settings. 🙁

  2. Tim, amazing episode. Very interested in the topic of AI. I wanted to hear more about mental health.

    I am reaching out because I am very close to a person that has been building an AI technology for the last 18 years solving the problem of technology assisted emotional intelligence. This person is a Stanford grad, MD, MBA and has been practicing medicine for 30+ years. The person is pretty unknown but I am trying to help them find a platform to share their knowledge to help iterate. This person is the most fascinating person I have ever talked to. Their technology is a highly effective pocket therapist. We call it an insight machine.

    Reach out to me please if your interest is sparked. I’d love for you two to meet.

    Thanks Tim
    Colleague of Doctor AI

  3. Thanks so much for sharing so much inspiration and knowledge. It was very interesting. A.I is going to be such a gamechanger in the not so distance future.

  4. Hey Tim, at the end of this you’re talking about fiction books. I agree that this is a fitting time to read more fiction. Do you have a short list of fiction book recommendations?

  5. Great work that she is doing and I’m really glad that she has turned down funding which leads to a surveillance utopia however should this really be in the hands of one person? I mean what if she had accepted this? Or how many people in the tech business are making these kind of choices every day that we don’t even know. I think AI ethics are an important issue and should be regulated asap among other measures.

  6. Hi, Tim, these days you’re in my head every day 😀 Cause I bought these amazing Bluetooth headphones, I listen to your podcast while I cook, and these quarantine days I cook a lot more than usual 😀

    Ok sorry for that suck up intro, I had to 🙂 But I wanted to draw your attention to works of Lisa Feldman Barrett: TED talks, various lectures, and most importantly, the book “How emotions are made”. If what she’s saying is true (and it’s backed up with tons of scientific proofs, research and evidence), it’s IMPOSSIBLE to read emotions from face, so that contradicts Rana’s work entirely. Maybe you’d like to interview her some time.

  7. I love how Rana pushed through fear and the criticism of others to follow her dreams, which in turn will bring great value to the world. She essentially had to put her marriage on the line and question how her choices would affect her children, yet she followed her instinct and made the choice to follow the far harder path. Most people lack that level of discipline, which is why most people do not bring a high level of value to those outside of their immediate circle. Impressive and inspiring.

  8. Can you close timferriss.com? It says it hasn’t been updated in years, is not secure, and wastes energy. You could keep the URL and still scrap the site.