Yesterday morning, a panel of experts from science, business, policy and the media addressed attendees at the “half-time review” in London. They revealed their stand-out moments from the last six months – from the public outcry about plastic pollution to Mark Zuckerberg’s Senate hearing  and shared their predictions of what we can expect in the latter half of the year. 

They came together ahead of the Huxley Summit, which takes place in November 2018. Business executives, policy makers, sector leaders and journalists will debate the impact technology has had and will have on society, and the major challenges we face. 

Follow the hashtag for more: #HuxleySummit 

Peter Barron, Former VP of Communications at Google EMEA and former Editor of BBC’s Newsnight

Peter Barron speaks at the half-time review in London

Key moment: President Xi Jinping becomes China’s President for Life 

On 11 May, China took a monumental step to change their constitution by abolishing term limits for Presidency. This means that Xi Jinping can essentially remain President for the rest of his life. He is a man with a plan; a plan that involves technology. He aims for China to be a global leader in 20 technologies by 2025, and it’s working – China are making extraordinary advances. By 2020 they will have caught up with us, by 2025 they will be better than us, and by 2030 they will dominate industries, in AI especially. At this point in time, we have a western tech industry under intense political and media pressure, but China has an unregulated tech industry that’s heavily invested in, with a rigorous 10-year plan.  

Prediction: Further regulation of technology 

By having a President with indefinite rule, it is believed that China will be more aggressive on the world stage. Western technology companies will suffer from tighter regulations, which will continue to be the norm. All the while China will continue “cracking on” with impressive tech breakthroughs that will challenge the West's current and soon-to-be short-lived supremacy.  

Dr Helen Czerski, Physicist, oceanographer and broadcaster

Helen Czerski gives her 2018 highlights and predictions

Key moment: EU blocking Britain’s space industry from being part of the Galileo project  

Galileo is the EU’s rival to the US’s Global Positioning System (GPS). Because of Brexit’s transition period terms, the EU has started to block Britain’s part in the project due to security aspects of the programme being on a “need-to-know” basis, which Britain will no longer have a right to. It begs the question of who controls the data and who has access to it? This is especially pertinent as satellite technology is becoming more essential to business and the public. The number of satellites going into low orbit and looking back at the Earth is huge, and they're providing vast amounts of data. They’re showing us what our planet looks like and are turning it into a village where everyone knows everyone’s business it’ll be hard to hide anything.  

Prediction: Countries fight over who should own the “new” Arctic ocean 

We’re heading for another year of record low sea ice, which will hit the news in September, just before the annual freeze-up. Ice cover in the Arctic was thought to be everlasting, but due to global warming, a new ocean will open in our lifetime. Sea ice will be the “Blue Planet II moment” for the Arctic. It will affect geopolitics – ships going through northwest passage, environmental issues such as oil spills, territorial claims by Russia and others – and it will affect ecology, such as changes in weather and species migration. The Arctic will become a much more visible issue, with an inevitable fight over who owns this new ocean. 

Clare Moriarty, Permanent Secretary for the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs

Clare Moriarty picked out key environmental issues during her speech

Key moment: Tackling single-use plastic pollution and the launch of the 25 Year Environment Plan  

Across society there has been an increased understanding and recognition of the impact of plastics on marine life. We have already taken on lots of action – the microbeads ban, the 5p charge on plastic bags (which removed 9 billion plastic bags from the system), but we know plastic use will still treble in a decade. It continues to be a huge imperative. Therefore, my key moments are the Blue Planet II series and the 25 Year Environment Plan, which came out on 11 January 2018. This contains the commitment to remove avoidable plastic waste by 2042. Within days we saw supermarkets come out to make their own commitments. David Attenborough himself recently said he was “astonished” by the response to Blue Planet II regarding our attitude and behaviour changes to single use plastics.   

Prediction: Illegal wildlife trade will be the new single-use plastics 

Illegal wildlife trade will come up the agenda. We need a global change and to get better use of technologies to help combat the problem. The illegal wildlife trade is a major threat to endangered species and a major threat to people (corruption, violence, etc.). We have conference in London later this year but there is not much going on at the minute. Digital Catapult are working with Google and Amazon to think about these solutions. Satellite imagery could be really valuable in helping combat this issue, along with other technologies such as, blockchain.  

Hugo Rifkind, Columnist for The Times

Huge Rifkind addresses that audience at the Digital Catapult for our half-time review

Key moment: Mark Zuckerberg telling the Senate committee"Senator, we run ads".  

My key moment is the Facebook and Cambridge Analytica Congressional hearings, where Mark Zuckerberg appeared before the Senate. An 84-year-old Senator from Utah asked how Facebook makes money from a service that users don’t have to pay for, and Zuckerberg replied, incredulously: “Senator, we run ads”. It's a phrase that is being used across the tech industry at the minute, highlighting the disconnect between those within the sector and those outside. The problem here though is that these companies are ignoring those outsiders. People just don’t understand that Facebook runs ads, and terrifyingly, some of those people are running the world. There’s a real power gap. And if nobody outside of the sector understands how these companies work, will they ever be capable or willing to regulate themselves? Democracy can’t touch them. 

Prediction: Technology companies will shut out politics altogether 

Tech companies are increasingly acting to avoid new regulatory action. Messaging companies suddenly encrypted their message content after realising the government would want to see them. Regarding political advertising, during the next US election all platforms will remove themselves from politics. It happened in the Irish abortion vote, where no adverts about it were allowed on YouTube. This is a model we will see more and more – and it’s a minefield. It will be fallible and biased human beings who make the decisions. It’s censorship: whether it’s for commercial reasons or state tyranny, it still has the same effect. 

The British Science Association believes that by bringing together researchers, business leaders, policy makers, regulators and commentators, we can start to have a debate that takes the public’s views, fears, and lives into account. What's to come for the rest of the year? The debate will continue at our annual Huxley Summit in November, where we'll see if any of these predictions came true.