Emerging REALITY group participating in team building activities on Banana Beach in Michmoret. Credit: Schusterman Family Foundation.
Emerging REALITY group participating in team building activities on Banana Beach in Michmoret. Credit: Schusterman Family Foundation.

Leading tech figures declare Israel the ‘epicenter of magic’

The REALITY experience brings it home for leaders in the fields of augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision, blockchain and immersive media creation.

Why sit behind a desk all day when you can explore Israel and meet experts in your field at the same time? That’s where REALITY Experience, an initiative by the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, comes in. The program, which offers 12 distinct journeys, each with its own unique focus, “brings inspiring influencers from around the globe on a transformative journey through Israel to reignite their passion and potential for repairing the world.”

JNS was invited to meet with some of the participants of Emerging REALITY, a program described on its website as “a transformative leadership experience in Israel specifically designed for leaders in the areas of augmented reality, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, robotics, computer vision, blockchain and immersive media creation who appreciate the value of collaboration, camaraderie and imagination.”

Ted Schilowitz, a futurist at Paramount Pictures, was full of energy and enthusiasm when he sat down with JNS. “This is quite a week. It’s like a summer camp,” he said. “It’s not just to see Israel, but to learn Israel, to really understand what makes it tick. And to see, from the particular bent of this group, why Israel is such a hotbed of innovation, startup culture, startup mentality and why the output of success is so high. I thought I had good insight on that, but now, after the first couple of days [on this trip], I have a much better insight on this.”

Schilowitz related a story from years ago when he was interviewed by a magazine in Silicon Valley. When asked where he thinks the best innovation in the world comes from, he replied, “I know you want me to say Silicon Valley, but I’m telling you it’s not Silicon Valley. It’s this little strip of desert in the Middle East that really has made the most relevant tech of our generation. And what is ironic is that the countries that surround that little strip of desert are often trying to eradicate it from the planet using all the technology that was developed by that little strip of desert. … And it’s troubling to me that those [countries] don’t realize that this is a jewel. It has to be treasured, regardless of your political dynamics, because you can’t execute anything without this little strip of desert. It’s fascinating, and it’s probably only getting started.”

Schilowitz expressed amazement that “most of the 8 billion humans on Earth are touching multiple things that came out of Israeli innovation every single day, multiple times a day, for many hours a day, every single day of their lives—and they have no idea that it came from Israel. … It’s just so extraordinarily relevant, and it’s almost impossible to imagine that it all comes from this [tiny country].”

Ted Schilowitz and fellow participants herding goats to better understand their roles as leaders at Neot Kedumim-Biblical Nature Reserve. Credit: Schusterman Family Foundation.

‘It blew my mind’

Amanda Goldfine, head of marketing partnerships at Oculus, was equally enthusiastic, telling JNS that this was her first time in Israel. “I’ve been wanting to come for a long time, so it’s exciting to be here … I’m learning a ton.”

Asked what appealed to her about joining the program, she mentioned a few reasons.

“Obviously, it’s great networking to meet people who are in similar industries with similar interests. We are learning a ton about each other and about ourselves in the process,” she said. “On the other hand, getting a chance to learn about leadership, the industry in Israel, such a huge tech scene … being able to learn about all the different aspects of life and culture here … learning about different types of leadership and how [people here] have been able to thrive despite everything.”

Goldfine also expressed her appreciation for the program. “Everyone on the itinerary looks really impressive, and it’s sometimes the people you don’t expect that you end up learning the most from.”

Her best praise she saved for Israel: “It’s really impressive that such a small country is such a big tech powerhouse.”

Toshi Hoo, director of the Emerging Media Lab, Institute for the Future, told JNS, “I’ve been to Israel before, and it blew my mind.”

“What really drew me,” he said, “was that I wanted to get out of Silicon Valley. I need to understand more about AI, and I’ve got incredible experts on the tour with me.”

Hoo said he is looking forward to all of the presentations the program set up. “It’s so well-curated. It’s not just interesting, enriching, tantalizing and delicious. You really feel the sense of curation of the relationships, and I feel the encouragement to self-actualize on this trip. They’re bringing all this outside stimulation and incredible new relationships, so it’s transformative.”

‘There’s a lot happening’

Tyler Wunsch, head of sustainability at Tesla, actually found out about the REALITY program while he was in Morocco at a fish market when an Israeli couple asked to join him at his table. When he admitted that he hadn’t yet been to Israel, they told him about REALITY tour. When he returned home, he Googled it and became interested.

Tyler Wunsch with Maddie Callander on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. Credit: Schusterman Family Foundation.

“I’m here to learn about the companies and the technology and the overall culture that is Israel,” he told JNS. “There’s a lot happening.”

Like Goldfine, Wunsch expressed his delight at being in Israel for the first time. “If I were Jewish, I would have gone on Birthright. I’m not, so I wasn’t able to.

“This is a unique opportunity to come to a country and experience the culture, the food, but yet be on this curated journey that allows you to meet with the locals, allows you to meet with people hustling in business, who are really making things happen,” he explained. “It’s probably one of the most unique experiences that I’ve had.”

Schilowitz summed it up best when he said: “If you think technology is magic, this is the epicenter of magic.”

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