The Summit 2017

The will of the people?

Science and innovation in a post-truth world

In November 2017, we brought together business leaders, scientists and policymakers to discuss the challenges associated with innovating. The programme focused on the role of societal acceptance in the success of cutting-edge innovation –  we asked, how can scientists and innovators understand and respond to public concerns?

Download the full programme


Why are certain lies more appealing than others?

Evan Davis (journalist, broadcaster and author) discusses the challenges of societal acceptance of genetically modified foods in a post-truth world. He asks why certain lies are more appealing to the public when a lot of other lies are available.

We need to address the real concerns people have

Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser (Director, Sainsbury Laboratory, University of Cambridge) discusses the challenges faced around societal acceptance of genetically modified foods in a post-truth world. She discusses how fear and uncertainty around topics like GM create ‘in’ and ‘out’ groups rather than an environment for inclusive and engaged debate.

The public are not technophobic

Robert Madelin (Chairman, Fipra International Ltd and former senior leader at the European Commission) discusses the challenges of societal acceptance of genetically modified foods in a post-truth world. He suggests that the public need to be involved in discussions over future scientific and technological advancements from day one rather than being brought in after the product has been created.

What's in it for me?

Justin King (former CEO of Sainsbury’s and Chairman of Terra Firma) discusses the challenges around societal acceptance of genetically modified foods. He suggests that the consumer needs to understand what benefit new technologies can offer them.

What can society learn from GM?

Despite a huge amount of scientific research into genetically modified 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?

What do we know about laughter?

Professor Sophie Scott (Neuroscientist, Wellcome Trust Senior Fellow, University College London) asks what society knows about laughter. She explains how laughter is used by humans and animals using funny anecdotes, and explains the science behind it.

Data - how much trust is enough?

With society’s trust in business is at an all-time low, getting the balance right between ‘data as an asset’ and ‘data as a risk’ could give businesses a competitive edge and promote growth. Ben Taylor (Chief Innovation Officer, Partner – Assurance; UK&I) asks how much trust is enough?

Getting it right with data

Richard Thomas, the former Information Commissioner, discusses the challenges for organisations managing large amounts of data. He asks whether data is a new currency, and suggests three ways to get it right with data.

Have we reached peak trust with data?

Chi Onwurah MP (Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation) asks if society has reached peak trust with data? Will the impact of a loss of trust in politicians and financial services will also hit the organisations that use and manage data?

The politics of data - whose voice should be heard?

Azeem Azhar, curator of Exponential View, encourages society not to rely on data and algorithms to answer questions about the kind of world we want to live in. He argues it only tells us about what has gone before.

The data explosion and the commercial imperative

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?

Becoming aware of our biases

What happens in your brain when you encounter an opinion different to your own? Dr Tali Sharot (Director of the Affective Brain Lab, UCL) takes us on a journey to discover how our minds work to confirm our own biases.

I fear a world without AI

Kenneth Cukier (author and Senior Editor for Digital, The Economist) introduces the early forms of artificial intelligence and discusses the future of AI. He suggests that, instead of being worried about AI like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk, we should actually fear a world without it.

AI - do not ignore the public's concerns

Jérôme Pesenti (CEO of Benevolent Tech) says we need to prepare for artificial intelligence by ensuring that people who work in machine learning understand the public’s worries.

We don't trust what we don't understand

Sarah Drinkwater (Head of Campus London, Google) says we need to understand how AI start-ups are created and the challenges they face. She calls on companies of all sizes to improve how they communicate what AI is and the benefits are for society.

AI connects the dots

Dr Pippa Malmgren (founder of H Robotics, economist and former Adviser to President George W. Bush) argues that artificial intelligence offers the opportunity to connect all the data that organisations have to solve societal problems. She believes AI needs to bring together science and the arts to create a positive world beyond our imagination.

We should be rational, evidence-based and positive about AI

Lord Chris Holmes MBE (Member of the House of Lords Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence) calls for a public debate on the societal impact of AI. He argues that the debate should not just focus on doomsday scenarios of robots taking over, but also on the benefits AI can bring to society.

Preparing for artificial intelligence

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.

When science is applied

Lord David Willetts (Chair, British Science Association and former Minister for Universities and Science) opens the 2017 Huxley Summit. In his address, he discusses the challenges for scientists when science is applied and becomes a technology. He asks what lessons can be learnt from GM and the challenges the scientific community face when trying to gain societal acceptance of new technologies.


The British Science Association would like to thank all our sponsors and partners for their ongoing support of the Huxley Summit.


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Diageo-Logo-Red Diageo is a global leader in beverage alcohol, and our outstanding collection of brands are enjoyed in more than 180 countries around the world. We own 20 of the world’s top 100 spirits brands among which Johnnie Walker, Smirnoff, J&B, Buchanan’s, Cîroc, Captain Morgan, Tanqueray and Baileys. We are a business built and sustained through innovation, and developing new ideas is crucial to our growth strategy. We aim to create a positive role for alcohol in society by reducing harmful drinking, building thriving communities and continuously reducing our environmental impact.


Ri logo The Royal Institution is an independent charity dedicated to connecting people with the world of science. It’s mission is to harness science for the maximum benefit of society and this is why they believe that people of all ages should be encouraged to think more deeply about the wonders and applications of science. For more information about the Royal Institution, please visit

SCI logo Established by Royal Charter in 1881, SCI is a unique multi-disciplinary international community. Set up by a prominent group of forward thinking scientists, inventors and entrepreneurs, SCI continues to be a multi-science and industry network supporting science based innovation into industry. Our charitable objective is to promote links between science and industry for the benefit of society. We deliver our charitable objective by:
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As a member, you’ll benefit from a wide range of practical and professional services, and enjoy outstanding networking opportunities. We host more than 200 business-to-business events each year, and help you market your products or services to other members.