The Huxley Summit is a high profile thought leadership event run by the British Science Association. It is named after ‘Darwin’s bulldog’, self-taught scientist Thomas Huxley who argued for Darwin’s theory of evolution against the Bishop of Oxford, Samuel Wilberforce, at the British Science Association’s (BSA) annual meeting in 1860. This was a pivotal moment in the public’s understanding of and opinion on evolution, and the Summit aims to provide a platform to debate key scientific and social challenges facing the UK in the 21st century.

The will of the people? Science and innovation in a post-truth world

The Huxley Summit 2017 brought together business leaders, scientists and policy-makers to discuss the challenges of creating innovations that are accepted by the public.

As the UK prepares to leave the EU, how can we ensure the UK is a leading force in creating innovative solutions to the 21st century challenges the world faces, such as developing ethical A.I, harnessing the power of big data, combatting the spread of microbial diseases and tackling climate change?

The Summit focused on the role that societal acceptance plays in the success of cutting-edge innovation. Key questions included; how will people’s views and behaviour impact on the UK’s role in introducing new technologies? And, how can scientists and innovators understand and respond to public concerns?

The Huxley Summit 2017 took place on Wednesday 29 November at the Royal Institution in London and further details about the event are available below. Further details for the Huxley Summit 2018 will be announced in Spring 2018.



Despite a huge amount of scientific research into GM crops and their impact on human health and the environment, the public remain resistant to their widespread introduction to agriculture and industry. What learnings can be gleaned from this story? And what does this mean for the public, business leaders, scientists and policy-makers in relation to new technologies and scientific advances in the future?


  • Lord David Willetts (Chair, British Science Association and former Minister for Universities and Science)


  • Justin King (Vice Chairman, Terra Firma, and previous Chief Executive, Sainsbury’s supermarket)
  • Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser (Director, Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge)
  • Robert Madelin (Chairman, Fipra International Ltd)
  • Evan Davis (author, journalist and broadcaster)

Over lunch, delegates will take part in facilitated roundtable discussions on challenges for policy-makers, business leaders and scientists in understanding human behaviour in relation to technological and scientific advances.

Just over 10 years since the phrase ‘data is the new oil’ was coined, the new oil rush is gaining momentum. Enabled by the exponential growth of data and AI capabilities we are seeing the creation of markets, business models and data assets as a source of unique commercial value.

However, these opportunities can come with ethical risks, and misjudging the use of data in business or policy could lead to long-term reputational damage and stakeholder mistrust. What opportunities are there for organisations and society to gain extra value from data? What role does compliance play in safeguarding consumer and stakeholder trust? How will decisions organisations make today impact future technologies that utilise data?

Perception changer presentation:

  • Professor Sophie Scott (neuroscientist, University College London)


  • Ben Taylor (Chief Innovation Officer, Assurance, EY)


  • Richard Thomas (former Information Commissioner)
  • Chi Onwurah MP (Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation)
  • Azeem Azhar (strategist, product entrepreneur and analyst)

How does society overcome the challenges of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and a potential breakdown of trust in technology from the public? New technologies – such as AI, driverless cars and gene editing – are challenging the relationship between the public and the physical, digital and biological worlds.

Perception changer presentation:

  • Dr Tali Sharot (Director, Affective Brain Lab, University College London)


  • Kenneth Cukier (author and journalist, The Economist)


  • Pippa Malmgren (Founder of H Robotics)
  • Jerome Pesenti (Chief Executive, Benevolent Tech)
  • Sarah Drinkwater (Head of Campus London, Google)
  • Lord Chris Holmes (member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence)