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 Huxley Summit 2019 will take place in November – more information will be released in June. Find out more about the 2018 event below.

Shifting perceptions?

The challenges and opportunities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution


The Huxley Summit 2018 brought together business leaders, scientists, policy-makers and opinion-formers on Wednesday 28 November 2018 at the Royal Institution.

Scientific and technological advances are continuing to merge the physical, digital and biological worlds – disrupting the status quo and changing perceptions of the creators, owners and users. New technologies are promising to change the world for the better, but how can businesses, policy-makers and scientists ensure products of innovation are fit for purpose as societal, environmental and cultural expectations change and shift?

2018 has seen the shift in public perceptions in the UK about the impact of single use plastics on the environment. New technologies, such as AI and gene-editing, have the power to change the relationship between citizens, businesses and countries. How can leaders in boardrooms and government consider changing perceptions in different technical and cultural spheres to create responsible innovations?

How does society overcome the challenges of the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ and a potential breakdown of trust in technology from the public?

The full programme for the Huxley Summit 2018 is below. Further information about previous Summits can be found on the 2016 and 2017 pages.



There will be two pre-Summit roundtables for invited guests.

  • Public perceptions – does it matter who funds science?
    In partnership with Genomics England.
  • Single-use plastics – what are the issues and what are the solutions?
    In partnership with the Royal Society of Chemistry. This roundtable will be streamed live on the RSC’s Facebook page.

Since the 1950s, plastic has been seen as a wonder material offering solutions to many problems. However, the recent public and media reaction to single use plastics following Blue Planet 2 has raised many questions for businesses, policy-makers and scientists. How do businesses create confidence and trust from consumers in products that could impact society and the environment? How do institutions manage this risk and learn from the past?

Keynote: Liz Bonnin
Panellists: Zoe Laughlin, Emma Howard Boyd, Rory Sutherland, Baroness Lucy Neville-Rolfe

Over lunch, delegates will take part in facilitated roundtable discussions on challenges for policy-makers, business leaders and scientists around changing public perceptions.

Part A: Short-term challenges vs. long-term risks
How can leaders in boardrooms and government consider changing perceptions in different technical and cultural spheres to create responsible innovations? This panel will discuss how boards can balance long-term risks and impacts with short-term challenges.

Keynote: Ben Taylor
Panellists: Linda Yueh, Marisa Drew, David Bucknall

Part B: Artificial perceptions of AI?

Artificial intelligence is heralded by technologists, business leaders, and policy-makers as a wonder technology that could have the ability to solve big 21st century global problems such as health, climate change, and inequality. As a term popularised through science fiction that has now become part of everyday life, how can we build trust in autonomous systems to make better decisions than people and challenge Hollywood stereotypes of Terminator style AI? How do regulators create an environment which both protects the consumer and is pro-innovation? How do businesses create products which won’t create a public backlash – either now or in the future? What is the role of the traditional and social media in facilitating public acceptance of new technologies?

Chair: Jim Al-Khalili
Panellists: Harry Gaskell, Kriti Sharma, Jo Swinson MP, Michael Wignall

Genome editing has the potential to alter any DNA sequence, whether in a bacterium, plant, animal or human being, it has an almost limitless range of possible applications in living things and could change what our current perceptions of ‘normal’.

The technology has many socio-political, legal, and ethical implications. Regulators and businesses across the world are taking different approaches to gene editing technologies depending on their country’s cultural and historical contexts. How will this influence the approach taken by the UK?

Panellists: Alison Woollard, Lord David Willetts, Ultan McDermott, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown