The Convergence of Technology and Social Good with Yael SwerDlOW

Mar 4, 2024 | Podcast | 0 comments

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Summary

Circle Optics, founded as a B-Corp under the visionary leadership of Zan Niazi, stands at the forefront of transformative technology with its groundbreaking 360-degree imaging solutions. Rooted in the belief that immersive visual experiences have the power to connect people across distances and differences, Circle Optics is dedicated to harnessing the power of panoramic imaging to deepen human connections, share experiences more fully, and open up new possibilities for understanding and empathy. This commitment to innovation, coupled with a strong ethos of social responsibility, propels us to explore the intersection of technology and human engagement, striving to create tools that not only captivate and entertain but also bridge gaps and build communities. Our podcast guest Yael Swerdlow, CEO and Founder of Maestro Games, SPC, shares our vision regarding leveraging technology to enhance human experiences and empowerment.

Yael Swerdlow, CEO and Founder of Maestro Games SPC is a steadfast champion of women’s empowerment. Swedlow shares insights from her diverse career—from the frontlines of photojournalism to pioneering roles in game development and advocacy for social change. This 360° Pulse episode explores how immersive technologies can not only enhance gaming experiences but also serve as powerful tools for education, emergency response, and promoting gender equality. Swerdlow’s unique perspective sheds light on the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for innovators eager to make a meaningful impact. 

How do you view the balance between technology’s benefits and its impact on human capabilities?

My skepticism towards technology’s impact on our autonomy and creativity, especially moving from film to digital photography, shapes my cautious embrace of technological advancements.
I think technology and empowerment is a really interesting space because so much of technology takes away our agency and at the same time frees us up to create more agency.  Empowerment, in its truest sense, necessitates the full utilization of our cognitive, emotional, physical, and spiritual faculties. These dimensions collectively encapsulate the essence of being human. The escalation of our dependency on technology, particularly the advent and integration of AI into our daily lives, poses a significant threat to our holistic human potential. There’s a delicate balance to maintain, where technology enhances rather than detracts from our human capabilities. My fears are anchored in the potential for this balance to tip unfavorably, leading us to a future where our empowerment is compromised due to diminished cognitive and creative faculties. 

Given your concerns, how do you perceive the future of creativity in the age of AI?

The encroachment of AI into creative domains such as music, art, literature, and even the art of photography, where digital manipulation becomes a norm, presents a dystopian outlook for creativity. Creativity, a divine gift, stands at risk of being marginalized or, worse, replaced by technological solutions. I was deeply impacted by the book “Your Brain on Art” by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross from Johns Hopkins that highlights the profound impact of art on our neural pathways, emphasizing creativity’s role in enhancing human experience and cognitive development. This underscores the necessity of preserving human creativity against the onslaught of AI-generated content. My fear is twofold: that we might become passive consumers of AI-generated creativity, losing our intrinsic creative impulse, and that this shift could relegate human creativity to destructive pursuits, given our diminished role in positive, constructive creation.

Share the Genesis of MaestrO Games SPC

Maestro is a social purpose corporation akin to a B Corp in California. When incorporating, B Corps didn’t technically exist, so it’s designated as an SPC, but the principle remains the same. Maestro is a neuroaesthetic technology company, and I’m eternally grateful to researchers at Johns Hopkins, Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross at Google, for their book “Your Brain on Art,” which introduced the field of Neuroaesthetics about six to seven months ago. Maestro sits at the intersection of behavioral health, neuroscience, and the arts. We use music and virtual reality, gamifying it to bring players moments of beauty, joy, and awe as a way to counter PTSD, moral injury, burnout, and stress, primarily working with first responders due to their high level of trauma and burnout, including healthcare providers, military, and law enforcement.

Originally, I explored various ways to engage the entire human—mind, spirit, soul, endocrine, and autonomic nervous systems—fully immersing them without distractions from their environment, leading us to choose VR. Music has always been my passion.

The origin story of Maestro is deeply personal, inspired by my late father, a brilliant yet troubled man who found solace in classical music, particularly Bach. Growing up, I experienced the transformative power of music firsthand. In his final years, battling mental and physical challenges, music remained his lifeline. His peaceful passing, underscored by Bach’s Partita No. 3, confirmed my belief in music’s sacred, healing power. This legacy, combined with witnessing the therapeutic effects of music and arts in challenging environments like Rwanda, propelled me to found Maestro. Our mission is to harness the arts, especially music, to heal and uplift, focusing on those who serve and protect us.

What Mentorship Made The Most Impact On You?

In my journey, mentors played an instrumental role, particularly those I encountered in the world of photojournalism. One mentor who stands out is Randy Leffingwell, a seasoned photographer at the LA Times, known not only for his exceptional work but also for his insatiable appetite for reading. Randy had an extraordinary ability to immerse himself in literature amidst the bustling chaos of the deadline room, awaiting the arrival of celebrities fresh from their Oscar wins. His level of focus was something to behold, a beacon of calm in the storm of activity. One day, our paths crossed unexpectedly, and though our acquaintance was minimal at that point, he offered me a piece of advice that would pivot the direction of my life. He was engrossed in “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck and, without preamble, insisted that this book was essential for me, claiming it would fundamentally shape my life’s journey. His intuition was spot-on. The book’s philosophy, emphasizing the valor in forging one’s unique path and the importance of personal growth through adversity, resonated deeply with me. It championed the idea of stepping off the well-trodden path to explore the uncharted, a principle I’ve come to live by.

This guidance led me to mentor young women, particularly in my role as an educator of spy novels from a gender perspective. This was a domain rife with traditionalist and often misogynistic views, epitomized by characters like James Bond. In this context, I encouraged my students to challenge the status quo, to look beyond the surface and find the nuanced truths that lay beneath. It was about encouraging them to develop a discerning eye, to question rather than accept at face value the feminist stereotypes and to navigate through the noise of conventional wisdom. My goal was to empower them to carve out their own narratives, to recognize the value in paths less trodden, and to embrace the unique resonance of their individual journeys, no matter how divergent from the mainstream. My own path to the LA Times exemplifies this philosophy. It wasn’t a straightforward journey; it required persistence, resilience, and a bit of serendipity. After numerous rejections, it was a chance encounter and being at the right place at the right time that finally opened the door for me. This experience underscored the unpredictable nature of life and the magic that unfolds when we loosen our grip on control and remain open to possibilities.

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