At first glance, Carol Reiley’s artificial intelligence projects appear wildly diverse: Self-driving cars. Surgical robots. Symphonic music.
But a common theme ties them together: How to build human-machine collaborations that improve lives. “How do we transcend human limitations but always have the human making the decisions and in control?” says Reiley MS ’07. “I feel like on the surface, there are many different applications of robots, but essential to every project I’ve worked on has been helping people.”
Co-founder and former president of Drive.ai, the self-driving car startup purchased in 2019 by Apple, Reiley was drawn to the technology by the promise of fewer auto accident deaths, which hover at around 40,000 per year in the United States. “It’s crazy that we’re so immune to those deaths,” she says. “I thought self-driving cars would be a way to save lives proactively, and I also see self-driving cars as the world’s first mass-scale robot, and that’s going to come with a lot of challenges.”
Reiley grew up in Washington state and, inspired by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, knew she wanted to be an entrepreneur. But she didn’t know if technology was the right path for her. While volunteering at a local hospital when she was a teen, she considered becoming a doctor. But it was only after discovering the robotics lab while earning her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering at Santa Clara University in California that Reiley found her calling.
She went on to earn a master’s degree in computer science from the Whiting School, specializing in haptic feedback. The principles of scientific inquiry and public spirit ethos she found at Johns Hopkins have carried with her throughout her career.
“Hopkins has an altruistic focus that pervades all through the university,” Reiley says. “In a time where AI and computer science can impact so many different fields, it was really interesting to realize that a lot of startups didn’t care about ethics or the customer in a human way—it was more about earning money or selling your company. It made me realize that everything at Hopkins is very human-centric, and people were very front and center. It was mission-focused.”
After taking leave from her doctoral program, just months before completing her studies, Reiley joined Intuitive Surgical to work on Da Vinci surgical robots, using augmented reality to help surgeons track and control the amount of force they applied during procedures.
She began Drive.ai in 2015 and was named one of Forbes’ Top 50 Women in Tech in 2018.
Today, Reiley is working on a new health care startup tied to genetics and women’s health. She also serves on the technical board at Harman International, a consumer electronics company, and is beginning a five-year term as a creative adviser for the San Francisco Symphony, where she will explore bridging the arts and artificial intelligence. Projects she’s contemplating for the symphony range from AI-assisted composition pieces to new types of musical instruments for education.
“Out of all my projects, this is the research area that’s resonated the most with people,” she says. “I think everyone is interested in the arts and creativity, and how AI and technology will impact it for the future. Like how the computer enhances the way people work, I’m hoping AI technology can enhance how artists work, freeing them up to be more creative.”
Reiley’s personal favorite project leans to the creative side. She wrote and self- published Making a Splash: A Growth Mindset Children’s Book, which has sold 20,000 copies. The book emphasizes that intelligence can be developed and failure is part of learning.
“It’s such an important subject for any age,” she says. “Everyone in life experiences failure, and this book is about how to strategize getting unstuck. Some people may even view Drive.ai being acquired by Apple last year as a failure instead of it becoming the next stand-alone billion- dollar company. I see it as an opportunity for my next company to get there.”