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Event Review: Sky Tech Summit

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On September 11th, I had the privilege of attending the Sky Tech Summit, now in its 3rd year. I’ve been invited to all the previous events, but its proximity to IBC has made it a luxury I’ve not had the time for in the past.

The Tech Summit is Sky’s chance to communicate with its partners and the wider industry the focus and direction for its technology. In a way, it is a challenge, to suppliers and to its competitors, to up their respective games, to match Sky’s thinking and actions.

The focus of this year’s Tech Summit and therefore I assume Sky’s, has expanded beyond the theme of streaming at scale (the subtitle for the original event). The agenda had multiple tracks covering content innovation, superior streaming, people & skills and emerging tech. But, for me, across these there were two bigger themes linking them all together, which were Artificial Intelligence and Inclusion.

Diversity and Inclusion

Diversity and inclusion are big global discussion points. The difference between the two, was succinctly put at the conference, diversity is being in the room, inclusion is having a seat at the table. For me inclusion is a moral imperative, but research shows that diverse, inclusive companies do better and are more resilient.  So, whatever your motivation comes from, inclusion should be a focus.

Sky wants to be the best it can be, and it also wants its partners and suppliers to be the best they can be, so inclusion is important to them.

The value of inclusion to Sky and their work on diversity were all on show.

Artificial Intelligence

For me the technology focus for the day was artificial intelligence. Now, I don’t actually like the term artificial intelligence and prefer to use the term machine learning. While there is some specialist research that I believe you can call artificial intelligence, nearly all the practical examples you will encounter are just a combination to vast amounts of data and statistics. But that is a rant for another day. For the purposes of this article, I am still going to use AI as a short hand for machine learning.

For me where AI is getting interesting is the ability we now have, with cloud computing, to easily link together different systems and capabilities. Any organization, of any size and any level of funding, can easily take advantage of AI systems. Anyone can put together facial recognition based systems, which were once only the preserve of tech goliaths and government agencies.

One example of where Sky News has been using AI was for the Harry and Megan’s wedding. They had put together a showcase service that used AI to identify guests at the wedding. Sky provided a special streaming service, during the wedding, with the guest highlighted and name, with the ability for viewers to drill down for more information.


The technology was pretty impressive, but what was telling for me was, this was not a closed boxed AI system but really an editorial aid. The service relied on an editorial team to review the output of the AI system and to accept, reject or correct it. The impressive accuracy of the AI recognition was not high enough to be acceptable for a Sky branded service. Much of the story told was about the trials and tribulations of the editorial team, it seems the AI facial recognition system, provided by AWS and GrayMeta, was as good as the data (training and live) it was given.

This shows that, today, AI is mainly a tool to enhance human activity, not to replace it.

Image-01-largeThe other main AI discussion was about emotional AI, with a keynote from Rana el Kaliouby,  CEO of Affectiva. Emotional AI is the ability for computer systems to detect and react to a human’s emotional/mental state. Example applications were monitoring driver alertness in cars and removing bias from market research through direct monitoring of emotional responses. Another interesting application was helping autistic children better communicate by having AI do what they sometimes can’t, which is to detect the emotions of another human being.


I really enjoyed the day, the setting, speakers, food and networking were all great.

2010_19-09-2017_5514It is worth briefly mention Sky’s campus. I’ve visited it before, but this was the first time I’ve spent a day wondering around it, really taking it in. Sky Central is a truely impressive building, with space for creative collaboration. It is something you would expect to find in Silicon Valley not West London.

I’m sad to think that this great hub of UK creativity is soon to be owned by American company, be that Disney or Comcast. It will be interesting to see, post purchase, if the event continues next year and, if it does, which of the faces will have changed. 

I do have to make a shout out for Graham Lovelace, the executive producer for the event, who did a great job at curating a long and complex day.

All of the presentations and panels are going to be available to be streamed from https://www.techsummit2018.skyI’m looking forward to getting a change to see the sessions I missed, particularly the ones from the start-up stream and the start-up showcase.

Matthew Huntington

DigitalRefugee Consultants


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