DENT 2016: From Eradicating Malaria & Disruptive Ideas to Virtual Reality


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 skiing, even in the Spring.

The brain child of Seattle-based Steve Broback and Jason Preston, 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 un-conference 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 the Founder of the Future Today Institute and an Adjunct Professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business, she dabbles in a lot of projects. She asks us wryly: “What happens when we get what we say we want?” On the topic of Emerging Tech Trends and the hot button in Silicon Valley right now: Big Data, she addressed where and how that 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:

I’ve been seeing this for the last few years — curation is becoming more and more automated and we are moving towards hyper personalized news. 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. 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. Yes, it’s happening, but 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? And, if I’m a democrat that searches more for Bernie Sanders talks than Ted Cruz, will the articles on Bernie be more favorable than the ones on Ted Cruz, and how does that algorithm decide what bias to let me see — and more importantly, not see. What gets marshaled to the top and what gets moved to the third page of my search?

Machines are learning from human behavior every day, including political views, our income brackets and the ugly biases of racism and homophobia. Truth be told, 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. I couldn’t agree more. Amy reminds us that the future isn’t something that happens to us passively — – it is something that we are creating proactively and collectively.

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 remains the number 3 killer in the world. A child dies every two minutes, and 453,000 people die each year. How is that possible you wonder? It’s not just that Malaria is a disease of poverty, but Malaria contributes to poverty.

Astonishing figures and yet the deaths from Malaria have reduced by 47% . 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.

With so many creative and bright minds in the room, Davis asked people to think about how to effectively design new issue and systems over the next 10-15 years around products, around operational management and logistics and around financing, all of which could accelerate the progress they make in Africa and beyond.

Currently, Malaria is not being solved by the private sector but he suggests that the real solution is a complex level of collaborations between private sector and governments and that cost and affordability is critical to solving this.

Says Davis, “In regular technology innovation, we think about the cost later. With Malaria, we need to think about the ultimate cost first and then design around that to get to that price, otherwise it won’t work.” They work in endemic conditions, where there’s not proper education systems and the environment is harsh which means that their work comes with enormous constraints.

It should be no surprise that the health systems they work in, especially in Asia and Africa, are incredibly complicated from years of aid and development agency and colonialism mixed with new agencies pouring money into the system. They are tracking index cases through droids and an app and using this model alone, they are attempting to check and treat every household to better figure out where people may have gotten infected. With a bunch of new data models, knowing where the reservoir is and where the mosquitoes are, is critical to their long term success. They’ve been working with Tableau to see where transmission is coming from and to give the data back to the health workers in the front line.

To make malaria history, they need to deploy resources faster than the disease can spread, so it’s an aggressive but important mission. There’s a huge sea change in global demographics. The faster we can get people in these countries to move into lower and middle working class, the faster we can eradicate diseases that are impacting so many.

Photo credit: website.

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.
If you don’t follow their activities, you might wonder how NASA engages with the real world and uses the tools they have to prize and challenge others? They have a great site called SOLVE, which 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.

A few of their projects include the ISS Food Intake Tracker, which provides NASA scientists a better understanding of nutrition to help mitigate negative physiological effects of spaceflight. The challenge budget for this was only around $144,600 and a challenge award was $36,288. They also wanted to find a new space suit glove solution since the ones they’ve been using for years are brutal on the hands. Talk about the power of outsourcing ideas to the community at large!! They ended up getting the new design concept from someone who developed stuff for Victoria Secret.  

After this session, DENT announced a new event called DENT Space, which will be held in San Francisco’s Innovation Hanger in September. They plan to have a theater stage, a main stage and an Exploration Hall, where people can show off what they’re building.

Former NFL football player Dhani Jones had his own set of ideas and rules for how to succeed. For entrepreneurs, which made up 80 or so percent 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 Cincinatti-based creative agency and a non-profit as well.  Of his time in sports, he says that “New York raised me, Philly taught me a lot of valuable lessons and Cincinatti polished me.

Announced in March, Dhani and former professional soccer star Kyle Martino will man the helm of the new NBC competition show ‘Spartan: Ultimate Team Challenge’ which is slated to air later this spring on NBC.  Of his path to success, he seems to put things into certain buckets that work for him. Learning from his time with the Giants, he emphasized the need to re-focus (we’d call that pivot in our world) and then get laser focused on what you want to achieve.  “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.”

We learn that New Zealand is one of his favorite places, because it’s so “young” and has such a long way to go. He sees the country as the ultimate blank slate. It is one of my favorite countries as well.

 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. Men say “it’s the best day of their life.”

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. They’ve apparently already been getting some traction with the tech community, including the likes of Netflix, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pandora, Airbnb, Twitter, and others.

Above, Beverly stands with prisoner graduates from the program. Photo courtesy of:

Parenti says their mission is to teach marketable skills to lead to jobs when prisoners get out. The idea is this: 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.

It’s undoubtedly true that many people think that inmates are society’s rejects. Inside San Quentin, The Last Mile is trying to break the cycle by training them how to code so they can learn a highly employable trade. Says a prisoner about the program’s impact on him, “by being able to call myself a software engineer, it means the world to me. It transforms who I am and makes me more motivated than anyone else out there because I know how hard it is to get a second chance.” Parenti ends with this this thought for us to ponder, “the biggest asset is that they can visualize themselves as a different person when they get to the outside world.”

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.

I bet you’ve never wondered how the challenges of holding your breath translates into defeating challenges above the water? As the female holder of the deepest free diving record in the world, Mandy has always been competitive. She runs her company with her husband in Canada and they have worked with recreational divers, entrepreneurs and even the renowned magician David Blaine, all intrigued about what holding your breath longer could help in other aspects of your life.

Apparently, there are three parts to free diving: time, depth and distance. The current world record is eleven minutes and 35 seconds, going down to 129 meters on one breath. Crikey – I can’t imagine the possibility and yet I’ve learned through my travels to nearly every continent, to never be surprised at what humans are capable of.

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 below 200 meters in Canada’s 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. It’s effective in sports, reaching goals and of course, on that very off day.

Photo credit:

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 having one considered cheating?

We also heard from Gavin Andresen and Neha Narula about the future of Bitcoin and digital currency, explored through a case study, explored storytelling in virtual environments with Nonny de la Pena, looked at new investment models with Sean Schantzen, and looked at war under a magnifying glass with Anastasia Taylor-Lind. Because DENT is so experiential, the talks were only piece of the lens at which you gathered. So much more than about collecting data from a series of talks, after hour discussions probed you to go deep into yourself about what you can do to make a pivot in your own life or make a positive impact on someone else, or even, an entire society.

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.

Lest not forget a photo walk, the views of snowy Baldy Mountain even in Spring and late night conversations in one of Sun Valley’s massive sized hot tubs, an experience not to be missed.

Not to be confused with the large pond and ducks in front of the Sun Valley Lodge…oh what a joyous view!

Denting the future is as much about being aware of what you can do to make the world a better place as it is innovation and scientific advancements. Speaking of 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, let’s just say that it’s mind blowing at first. While you’re walking around in an empty room with silly goggles on, you’re convinced that your experience of the car is so real; it’s as if you’re walking or rather floating through a bouncy blue cloud. As for a glimpse of it? 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.


Photo credit: Buick website:

The last highlight for me was hanging out with infamous 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. As he meandered in and out of our social gatherings, 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.

Some of the innovation that happens in the world appears to be magical, does it not? As devices can now monitor our sleep in real time, others can swim around inside of us while being controlled by a doctor and drones can give us an entirely different experience than we otherwise would have had.

DENT is a dazzling and mind-expanding experience where people join forces for various collaborative efforts to move the needle and dent the future. This my friends is how community forms and how the magic and power of one mind + one mind = ten minds gets started. It happened in Silicon Valley and it happens around the world, including 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.

Those interested in additional photos, below is a collection of networking and after hour shots….

Through the lens of Chris Voss’ camera

Greg Kisor, Renee Blodgett, Michael Grabham — photo courtesy of Russell Sparkman

Kris Krug with Jason Nunnelley

Above, Matthew F. Reyes of GoPro and Scott Jordan of ScotteVest

Above, Jason Preston interviews Buick’s Dan Kinney who leads User Experience for their Global Connected Customer Experience Group. See journalist Myriam Joire’s video interview with Dan at DENT. 

Speaking of Buick, how’s this for stunning? T’was nice getting picked up from the airport in a gorgeous Regal, especially with backdrops like these.

 Monica Guzman

Larry Brown plays magical tunes…

Marsha CollierPhil Colley, Buick, Renee Blodgett

Simon Winthrop performs…

Steve Broback, Co-Producer of DENT and Phil Colley of Buick’s OnStar team

Renee Blodgett, Greg Kisor, Maryam Scoble

Kyle Kesterson

Food and wine is also an integral part of the event, so a great choice for foodies who also love tech and innovation…below are some shots taken at the delicious Vintage Restaurant, where Buick held a thought provoking dinner. See my write-up on two foodie gems in the heart of Ketchum.

There’s also delicious dining at the Warfield Distillery & Brewery in the center of town…

And, a delicious spread at the home of Scott Jordan, CEO of ScotteVest

Did I mention that Sun Valley also has superb skiing, even in mid-March?





Renee Blodgett
Renee Blodgett is the founder of We Blog the World. The site combines the magic of an online culture and travel magazine with a global blog network and has contributors from every continent in the world. Having lived in 10 countries and explored nearly 80, she is an avid traveler, and a lover, observer and participant in cultural diversity.

She is also the CEO and founder of Magic Sauce Media, a new media services consultancy focused on viral marketing, social media, branding, events and PR. For over 20 years, she has helped companies from 12 countries get traction in the market. Known for her global and organic approach to product and corporate launches, Renee practices what she pitches and as an active user of social media, she helps clients navigate digital waters from around the world. Renee has been blogging for over 16 years and regularly writes on her personal blog Down the Avenue, Huffington Post, BlogHer, We Blog the World and other sites. She was ranked #12 Social Media Influencer by Forbes Magazine and is listed as a new media influencer and game changer on various sites and books on the new media revolution. In 2013, she was listed as the 6th most influential woman in social media by Forbes Magazine on a Top 20 List.

Her passion for art, storytelling and photography led to the launch of Magic Sauce Photography, which is a visual extension of her writing, the result of which has led to producing six photo books: Galapagos Islands, London, South Africa, Rome, Urbanization and Ecuador.

Renee is also the co-founder of Traveling Geeks, an initiative that brings entrepreneurs, thought leaders, bloggers, creators, curators and influencers to other countries to share and learn from peers, governments, corporations, and the general public in order to educate, share, evaluate, and promote innovative technologies.
Renee Blodgett on FacebookRenee Blodgett on InstagramRenee Blodgett on PinterestRenee Blodgett on TwitterRenee Blodgett on Youtube
Read More Share

Recent Author Posts

Join Our Community

Connect On Social Media

Most Popular Posts

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

We Blog The World