Putting a dent in the future -- isn't that a compelling idea? And, what's even more compelling is that it means such different things to different people and why the eclectic DENT Conference in Sun Valley Idaho, is so unique. From technologists, entrepreneurs and scientists, to artists, astronauts and Olympic Gold medalists, people gather around to hear radical new ideas, learn from the best of the best and share their best practices, all under the roof of the Sun Valley Inn, a stone's throw from Baldy Mountain and incredible views, even in the Spring.
The brain child of Seattle-based Jason Preston and Steve Broback, DENT is now in its fourth year and my third year of attending, DENT's format is a mix of educational, interactive and thought provoking, with unconference break-out sessions, fireside chats and general talks.
Since the backbone of the conference stems from the technology community, it seemed fitting that American futurist and author Amy Webb would speak. As Founder of the Future Today Institute, she has her hands in a lot of projects. She asks us wryly: "What happens when we get what we say we want?" She also addressed where and how big data will change how we think about the world and how we interact with it.
What if an algorithm could predict our news? What if a news story could be written by an algorithm, using curated and scraped data that could get published? If you follow financial and sports news today, you may be surprised to learn that many of these stories are already being written by algorithms. Yet, it's not something we really think about and curation is already there in some industries. What if algorithms designed our real world experiences or even more radical: what if algorithms could program our people?
Photo credit: http://www.goldenhourblog.com
Rather than reading a single news story, data that reaches our desktop or mobile device is becoming more personalized for you, all programmed by an algorithm. She says, "the nugget of news will be personalized based on our own old data and online behavior which means that there's an infinite number of possible stories that could be distributed."
What if in the not too distant future, there will be editors but no journalists. Imagine that you will have your own personalized news feed that is pre-filtered based on your likes and preferences. It begs the question: is that what we really want? Because there are so many possible places to get our news, the real value will be super customized and personalized. Sure, it will be content vetted, but isn't there an element of joy when we discover new things outside our comfort zones?
If the vetted, curated big data funnel merely delivers me content on travel, photography and food because those are topics of interest I search about the most, will I ever learn about something new I might want to try, like martial arts or sky diving? What gets marshaled to the top and what gets moved to the third page of my search? We are leaving bread crumbs everywhere, every single day. Perhaps in the future, we will PAY to be anonymous and that will be worth more than anything else.
PATH's CEO Steve Davis addressed Malaria. What does Malaria have to do with technology and innovating the future you ask? A lot when you reflect on the fact that it's 2016 and with all of our advancement, malaria still impacts so many.
If you're not familiar with PATH, they work on vaccines, drugs, diagnostics, service and system innovation and they partner with organizations to drive down these diseases that affect so many and so unfairly.
From big data, virtual reality, robotics, health and analytics, we turned to some of the problems NASA is trying to solve. Female astronaut Cady Coleman talked about what we can learn from other species and planets and how they've already learning lessons about sustainability from Mars. She asserts that all the problems on Mars are essentially earth problem as well. We learn that NASA is collaborating with the outside world to infuse innovation.
Their site SOLVE is a single portal for public participation listing all opportunities to actively engage in supporting NASA's mission and some of the things they're working on are similar to xPrize. They have centennial challenges, student focused challenges, space apps challenges, such as building a robot that can go into space, collect stuff and bring the data back.
After this session, DENT announced a new event called DENT Space, which will be held in San Francisco's Innovation Hanger in September.
Former NFL football player Dhani Jones had his own set of ideas and rules for how to succeed. For entrepreneurs, which made up the majority of the attendees, learning about best practices is vital to getting ahead. From football and restaurants to being the star of a Travel Channel series for two seasons, he has his hands in a Cincinnati-based creative agency and a non-profit as well.
Learning from his time with the Giants, he emphasized the need to re-focus (we'd call that pivot in the tech world) and then get laser focused on what you want to achieve. He says, "Rewiring yourself in life is the same in life as it is in business. It's always about re-shift, re-focus and relationships," he said and then added, "there's a sense of collaboration that needs to happen in the world -- you can't create it all yourself - you need to do it together with others."
Beverly Parenti is breaking ground and shaking things up with In-Prison Career training in the San Francisco Bay Area. Their program, The Last Mile, teaches business and entrepreneurship where inmates could tap into social media, write a business plan and interact with CEO's, guest authors and start-up entrepreneurs. Additionally through a pilot they've been running out of San Quinton Prison, they have an opportunity to pitch the business idea to invited guests and fellow inmates.
The Last Mile allows prisoners to re-define who they are and how they're viewed in the world post release: Having a job can ultimately be the greatly increase the likelihood of success and a smooth re-integration into everyday life.
Parenti says their mission is to teach marketable skills to lead to jobs when prisoners get out. The idea she says, "if we could reduce the percentage of recidivism and break the reincarcernation cycle then maybe the kids of those prisoners won't go down the same path as their parents did." Today, they're already teaching technology skills in San Quentin, which is an industry known for judging the quality of your work, rather than stigma of your past.
From overcoming obstacles in prison and re-inventing yourself, award-winning free diver Mandy Rae Krack demonstrates how to use the state of flow to achieve incredible things with diving. No joke, this woman's handle on Twitter is @Breathholder and that's precisely what she's "the best" at doing -- holding her breath. She spoke of her experience swimming with humpback whales, which changed her life.
Like in life's daily obstacles, Mandy had to learn how to overcome the evil monkeys in your head when you're having an off-day. That off day might look and feel even worse if you're free diving in Canada's deep waters, which is like swimming in complete darkness than it would if you were at 200 meters in crystal clear warm Caribbean waters. She highly recommends visualization, which I subscribe to as well and used it when I first walked over hot coals for the first time.
Un-conference proposals seemed to be all over the place, from Artificial Intelligence, Mental Health 2.0 and how to get around your own biases when hiring, to the Ethics of Sex Robots -- is a sexual encounter with a robot considered cheating?
Yoga was led every morning by Conrad Preston and Larry Brown soothed our souls by playing guitar over the course of three days. See a short video I shot of Larry leading an unconference which is about as unstructured as it sounds and performing at the final reception.
On innovation, Buick and Emblematic Group teamed up to create the ultimate virtual reality experience with the Buick Avista Concept Car. While you won't see the Avista Concept on the road as a production vehicle, its sculptural beauty and performance apparently aim to inspire the next generation of Buick vehicles. They were on-site to bring people into a surreal 3D world of that concept car.
If you've never had an immersive virtual experience of this magnitude. What I saw was a dreamy, if not a little spacey version of the below through my goggles, but since it was a 3D experience, I was inside the car. I could crouch and peer into the front engine from the driver's seat, the coolest part of the demo, at least for me.
The last highlight for me was hanging out with Las Vegas-based magician and mentalist Simon Winthrop. Who knows, perhaps he was at his best when he performed for Hollywood celebrities or for 16 straight hours for the Saudi Royal Family in Dubai at the Palace, but my guess is that he is as mesmerizing for smaller groups -- he managed to captivate us for three straight days. He read people's minds, performed bizarre card tricks, ended up with my watch in his hand without my feeling it while standing in front of me and made rings disappear.
DENT is a dazzling and mind-expanding experience where people join forces for various collaborative efforts to move the needle and dent the future. It happened in Silicon Valley and it happens once a year in beautiful Sun Valley, where people with a genuine desire in helping good ideas grow and spread, all come together with overlapping interests and empathetic hearts.
Through the lens of Chris Voss' camera
Greg Kisor, Renee Blodgett, Michael Grabham -- photo courtesy ofRussell Sparkman
Above, Jason Preston interviews Buick's Dan Kinney -- see Myriam Joire's video interview with Dan.
Larry Brown plays magical tunes...
Marsha Collier, Phil Colley, Buick, Renee Blodgett
Simon Winthrop performs...