Kavya Pearlman, Founder and CEO, XR Safety Initiative

Kavya Pearlman: A Cyber Guardian for Extended Reality

Leading by example, Kavya Pearlman has dynamically contributed to the cybersecurity space. Kavya is the Founder and CEO at XR Safety Initiative (XRSI), a not-for-profit organization that promotes privacy, security, and ethics in the immersive environments (virtual reality, mixed reality, and augmented reality).

Previously, she has advised Facebook on third-party security risks during the 2016 US presidential elections, worked as the head of security for the oldest virtual world, “Second Life” by Linden Lab, and led many leadership and advisory roles.

Alongside, she is also the co-host of the immersive podcast “Singularity Watch” and one of the Top 50 speakers in the cybersecurity industry.

Moreover, Kavya has founded The CyberXR Coalition that now focuses on diversity and inclusion and the cross-section of Cybersecurity and XR, helped launch a trustworthy XR news platform, ReadyHackerOne, and established a Medical XR Advisory Council.

We at Insights Success caught up with Kavya to know more about her journey and how she is helping build safe immersive environments through XRSI.

Below are the highlights of the interview:

Brief our audience about your journey as a business leader until your current position at XR Safety Initiative. What challenges you had to overcome to reach where you are today?

After graduating from DePaul University in Chicago, in 2015, I held a couple of roles as a cybersecurity analyst. My perspective completely changed with my role as the third-party security adviser at Facebook during the 2016 US Presidential Elections. That is where I truly realized the impact technology has on humanity, understood the scope and extent of risks that innovation brings along, and the need for leadership in this mission. Evaluating risks for emerging technologies is a complex skill per se. Still, beyond that, promoting ethics and integrity in a “move fast and break things” culture presents its challenges. These are the issues most minority voices of ethics run into. Before I knew it, I had to face similar challenges in my next role at Linden Lab, the creator of the oldest existing virtual world: Second Life. As a head of security, I was tasked to secure and protect two virtual economies and maintain compliance. However, it was not always easy to get the organization to act proactively and mitigate security and privacy risks. For the first time, I had to choose between raising my voice or accept the status quo. Naturally, I raised my voice around various concerns. I even received my badge of honor, an “on the spot” termination the same day San Francisco Business Times gave me my fourth award for being one of the “Top 40 under 40 business executives”. That was the moment I decided that I would never stop promoting privacy, security, and ethics. What’s different today is that I have learned that the issues are not limited to a relatively small Silicon Valley company: we are talking about huge societal challenges with virtual worlds becoming commonplace and the emergence of the Metaverse.

I practice the mantra “Fail Forward” and advise anyone who lives their passions to do the same. Hence, I started to gather like-minded individuals. Together with my co-founder, Marco Magnano, I commenced the mission of XR Safety Initiative – XRSI to help build safe and inclusive XR ecosystems.

Tell us something more about your company and its mission and vision.

XRSI has a clear mission: to help build safe and inclusive XR ecosystems, an umbrella term that stands for Extended Reality and includes Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR).

We are constantly investing most of our time and effort in analyzing and understanding privacy and safety risks and unintended consequences that often come along with innovation. We do this by bringing together multidisciplinary stakeholders from around the globe to build ethical standards and frameworks.

While the focus remains XR, we explore various intersections such as Artificial Intelligence, 5G/6G, Brain-Computer Interfaces, Blockchain and DLT( Decentralized Ledger Technology), Spatial Audio, Robotics, and more. XR technologies influence almost every domain, but we strategically focus on industries and fields needing urgent guidance, such as Child Safety, Healthcare, Higher Education, and the intersections of Artificial Intelligence. At every intersection and pursuit, our mission entails creating equity, diversity, accessibility, and inclusion. The standards and guidelines we develop and provide are meant to rebuild the trust between individuals and innovators while helping shape new regulations in the domain.

Undeniably, technology is playing a significant role in almost every sector. How are you leveraging technological advancements to make your solutions resourceful?

Let me say that we are on the front line of technological transformation, so this is a fundamental part of our work.

Immersive technologies provide many opportunities to take our mission one step further every day. For example, using virtual reality to create awareness around the risks and opportunities XR brings along is a no-brainer. Compared to traditional media such as Zoom calls or web conferences, immersion offers ~75% higher knowledge retention. We collaborate with various AI-focused groups to leverage artificial intelligence to conduct our research and analyze results. We have conducted NFT auctions to create interest among the creators’ community. Every day, we encourage ethical hackers to find flaws in novel systems and products by utilizing various custom forms of XR models and simulations.

The use of these technologies allows us to understand them better and communicate and relate with the community in a more effective manner, especially when sharing knowledge about complex subjects like cybersecurity.

If given a chance, what change would you like to bring in the Cyber Security industry?

I would love to see the cybersecurity industry pivot from “protection” mode to “prevent” mode. Only by proactively building secure applications and anticipating bad actors can we stay ahead of emerging threats. Oftentimes, cybersecurity professionals are so busy fighting fires that building secure code receives little attention. This paradox needs to be solved, and this is even more important now that our critical infrastructures and our future depend on code.

I would also like to add more color and diversity to our domain. Emerging technologies desperately need to create more diversity and inclusion. When it comes to the United States of America, the cybersecurity domain remains very white homogeneous male-oriented. I hope to see a reality one day, where everyone is represented, and everyone feels safe.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the Security sector?

Don’t be afraid to take a shot at new things and ask for a spot at various tables, especially if you are a minority. The worst that can happen is you may be denied access, but as the great hockey player Wayne Gretzky used to say, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”

While scary, the time we live in is also the most exciting one to build solutions in the cybersecurity domain and break or hack things with purpose.

What message you would like to give to non-profits in the tech space?

As nonprofits, we often rely on the generosity of corporations, and that’s okay, but don’t compromise on the principles and give the large for-profit corporations a free pass simply because they invest a few dollars to further their agendas.

Remain true to your mission. Help protect humanity. Gather and share knowledge with everyone. Ethics and integrity are the best currencies to bring with you, especially when navigating uncharted territories. Most importantly, Never Give Up!