For many science-loving kids in the U.K., at this time of year the only thing that can compare to the excitement of Santa's arrival is the annual Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. If you've not heard of this spectacular showcase of science, it is an iconic event that has taken place each year at London's Royal Institution since 1825.
Initiated by English physicist Michael Faraday to showcase the wonders of science to children at a time when organized education was scarce, every year highlights a different topic. Previous Christmas lectures have introduced budding scientists to concepts such as natural philosophy, the rudiments of astronomy and the chemical history of a candle.
Time: 8 p.m U.K / 3 p.m ET / 12 p.m PT
Channel: BBC Four, BBC iPlayer
Since 1966, people have been able to watch these delightful shows on television, including David Attenborough explaining the language of animals, Carl Sagan exploring the planets and Richard Dawkins introducing the evolution of life in the universe.
This year's subject could not be more relevant to our times, with a lecture called "The Truth about AI," presented by Mike Wooldridge, a professor of artificial intelligence at the University of Oxford.
Wooldridge will explore how this ground-breaking technology works, how AI can be trained to play games, and he will address one of the most pressing questions of our time — can artificial intelligence ever truly be like us, or are we unique?
The show airs at 3 p.m. ET on Dec. 26, 27 and 28 and will be available for free on BBC iPlayer. If you have a TV Licence and are out of the country, you can watch the Ri Christmas Lectures from anywhere in the world with a virtual private network (VPN).
Royal Institution Christmas Lectures preview
If you can't wait to see what's in store, here's Michael Wooldridge explaining the AI behind auto-translate apps that you use on your devices.
How to watch the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures in the U.S.
The Ri Christmas Lectures premieres on BBC Four at 8 p.m. GMT / 3 p.m. ET on Tuesday (Dec. 26) and will continue on Wednesday and Thursday at the same times.
If you just can't wait a day to see the next show, you can watch all of them on BBC iPlayer on Dec. 26, where you can also catch up on previous Christmas lectures.
BBC One and iPlayer are free to watch for those with a TV Licence, but if you're trying to access iPlayer while outside the U.K., you will need a VPN. Our favorite is ExpressVPN, which is the best VPN in the world right now according to our sister site, TechRadar.
Outside of the U.K. or for those without a TV Licence, the lectures will be available on the Royal Institution YouTube channel at from Dec. 29. You can also get the rest of the Ri's content there, so plenty to chose from away from AI.
How to watch the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures from anywhere in the world with a VPN
You can watch the Ri Christmas Lectures wherever you are in the world by using a VPN. Normally streaming services will block you if you are trying to login from a country where they are not supported, but a VPN will hide your location and make it seem like you are in the right country to access the content, opening up the whole platform to you.
How to use a VPN to watch any stream
—Download the app at ExpressVPN
—Choose the location of the streaming service you want to watch (U.K., U.S., etc)
—Navigate to the streaming service and start watching!
ExpressVPN is one of the simplest and most affordable ways to watch what you want from anywhere you want to watch it.
It's straightforward and easy to use, has great security, is available on loads of streaming devices and, best of all, it comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee, so you can try it out 100% risk-free.
Who is Michael Wooldridge?
This year's lecturer is Mike Wooldridge, an expert in AI who has written multiple books on the subject, including the "Artificial Intelligence Everything you need to know about the coming AI" (Penguin, 2018) and "The Road to Conscious Machines" (Pelican, 2020).
He is a professor of AI at the University of Oxford and the director of AI at the Alan Turing Institute in London. During his career he has won multiple awards for both research and education, including the Lovelace Medal, the leading award for a U.K. computer scientist, and the Outstanding Educator award from the Association for the Advancement of AI (AAAI).
What is the Royal Institution?
The Royal Institution of Great Britain was founded in 1799. Its primary purpose was originally to introduce new technologies to the public and teach science through lectures and demonstrations. The first lecture was delivered in 1800 by the RI's first professor of chemistry, Thomas Garnett. Other notable alumni include Michael Faraday, Ernest Rutherford and Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin.
Now, the RI's charitable purpose is "to bring the public and scientists together to share their interest and passion for science," creating spaces for the scientists and the public to explore science together.
Sign up for the Live Science daily newsletter now
Get the world’s most fascinating discoveries delivered straight to your inbox.
Alexander McNamara is the Editor-in-Chief at Live Science, and has more than 15 years’ experience in publishing at digital titles. More than half of this time has been dedicated to bringing the wonders of science and technology to a wider audience through editor roles at New Scientist and BBC Science Focus, developing new podcasts, newsletters and ground-breaking features along the way. Prior to this, he covered a diverse spectrum of content, ranging from women’s lifestyle, travel, sport and politics, at Hearst and Microsoft. He holds a degree in economics from the University of Sheffield, and before embarking in a career in journalism had a brief stint as an English teacher in the Czech Republic. In his spare time, you can find him with his head buried in the latest science books or tinkering with cool gadgets.