Brilliant Minds at KentPresents 2016

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Attendees to KentPresents 2016 were filled with anticipation and excitement as the two-and-a-half day “festival of ideas” opened at Kent School campus on August 18. Eighty-seven well- known presenters were on hand to discuss what’s next in fields ranging from art, economics, global and national affairs, health care, literature, science, and technology. 

KentPresents is the brainchild of Ben and Donna Rosen, 14-year residents of Kent who are enlivening and supporting this picturesque village by donating proceeds from the conference to local charities. Last year, grants totaling $100,000 were awarded to 26 social service charities; one would not have been able to pay the rent without this windfall donation. There seems to be no trouble attracting an incredible roster of experts who generously waive their speakers’ fee.

“I am trying to organize something I’d like to go to,” said co-founder Ben Rosen. “One of the reasons we made it broad was to find something of interest for everyone.” As Chairman of Compaq Computer for 18 years and Chairman Emeritus and Life Trustee of Caltech, Rosen is no stranger to organizing conferences. His wife, Donna Perret Rosen, herself influential in the contemporary art scene, adds to the scope of the art and humanities fields. 

The conference is the limited to 300 attendees who pay a hefty tax-deductible fee but allows them unlimited interaction with the speakers during the breaks and meals. From 8:30 am to 6 pm, attendees make a difficult choice between three topics each hour, but all sessions are video-taped for later watching.

Outstanding amid the myriad of fascinating topics was the presentation of Jet Propulsion Director Dr. Charles Elachi who led the Mars Exploration Rover Mission. Watching the team achieve the launch and successful landing of the machine on Mars, as Dr. Elachi extolls, “Only in the United States could this be achieved.” Equally impressive was Kip Thorne—one of the scientists who conceived the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO)—describing the physical detection in 2015 of gravitational waves (physical distortions in space-time) caused by the collision approximately 1.3 billion light-years away of two black holes. The experiment confirms the prediction of Albert Einstein in 1916. David Baltimore discussed the risks and benefits of the groundbreaking new tool CRISPR, which can alter individual genes and will aid in the battle against cancer. Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics demonstrated how they taught the robot Max to balance.

Other sessions included Sir Richard Dearlove—Kent School alum, trustee, and former head of Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6)—who tackled the difficult question of “Security and Liberty.” Former Secretary of Defense William Perry warned we are back “At the Nuclear Brink,” given North Korea’s provocations. Experienced men such as Les Gelb, Henry Kissinger, Christopher Hill, Jack Matlock, Hussein Majali, J. Stapleton Roy, and Thomas Pickering came together to discuss Russia, China and the Middle East; hopefully this discussion may produce solutions and strategies for the future. Quest readers may access the video gallery of these sessions as well as the 2016 and 2017 sessions on the Kentpresents.org website, a most worthwhile and enlightening experience.