roger mitchell
6 July 2020

Has business (and indeed the world) really understood AI? I mean really understood.

roger mitchell
6 July 2020

Zone7 is our second start-up investment in AI, so maybe I have had more time to get my head around, in plain (wo)man’s English, what the product actually is.

 Beyond the jargon and buzzword bingo around AI, machine learning and neural networks,

 what is it, actually?

It’s simple, but utterly profound, when the penny drops.

When I started noticing how much better Zone7‘s accuracy was getting every day, that was the moment the penny dropped for me. I see all the analyses internally and I could conclude that:

this tech is actually  learning before our own eyes.


We saw this as Real Salt Lake massively reduced injuries with Zone7, as they came back to play in the MLS. 

 Our new football clients in Italy and Germany also are enjoying the same benefits.

 It’s almost spooky!

It’s like one of those old episodes of StarTrek, where the alien entity gets onboard and accesses all Spock’s databases. It learns exponentially and, in no time, has “intelligence” far superior to Starfleet.

The key word for me is exponential.

 The “network” effect of AI software seeing a plethora of clubs’ data is devastatingly powerful.  It hoovers up data and info from beyond the immediate project area or client, and generates new knowledge “out of thin air”; by “learning” from apparently coincidental connections and correlations; that a human wouldn’t see.

This is what we, at Zone7, want to tell our clients (sports and not):

We are not just taking the existing data points and summarising them better,
or visualising them in a cool way with more flexibility.
That’s what our competitors do.


So, once this penny drops, you ask yourself: what are the boundaries of all this? Especially when we are at the dawn of quantum computing.

 The creation of new knowledge and insight
around human traits

In sport alone, this is mind blowing. We, at Zone7, are concentrating today on predicting the likelihood of soft tissue injuries. But the machine learning in theory can be applied to things like tactics, both in match preparation and in-game: formations, starting personnel, substitutions, referees unconscious bias to home teams, kickoff times.
All these data points will be available from over millions of minutes of games, plugged into software like Zone7, which will digest, and create “new knowledge” and insight.

It’s a short leap to see how this will be applied to decisions on player recruitment and divestment: input the full data suite of characteristics of your transfer target into the system and let the machine tell you what is likely to happen to your dressing room.


I personally think this is here the day after tomorrow in sports. That’s my bet. And god does sport need it! The finances of some clubs/franchises are a disgrace in their wastage on player squads. It could all be improved.

Let’s take a pause, coz it’s a dramatic vision. And not just for sport. For example, the world of financial market trading is evermore dominated by “algo trading”. That’s machine learning, creating new knowledge. Our Zone7 seed investors Duferco, (as one of the top commodity trading houses in the world), see where all this is going. And it was a big factor in them investing and actively working with us. They own a football club, a sports accelerator and have been pioneers in sports data use as founders of Wyscout.

As we saw from our work in helping doctors and nurses in hospitals in the last four months, the industrial implications for employee wellness and productivity by using AI tech are also endless.

 AI disruption has no limits

My afore-mentioned previous AI investment was in the bookmaking sector. Same principles. That company stayed independent for less than 2 years. They now are the heart and soul of the big bookmaker, who bought them. Engineering tech stack skills, better pricing, better risk management. The whole shooting match, outside marketing.

The insurance and actuarial industries are ripe for disruption by Zone7 type software. It will be, therefore, no surprise that we have already been approached with low-hanging fruit benefits in, perhaps, reducing premiums for clubs regarding player injury and disability. But that’s just scratching the surface.

And the human?
Well, here is where I think
the competitive advantage lies for our clients.

In industries where the “assets go up and down in the elevator”, a superpower ability like Zone7 needs to be used by a human of extraordinary EQ.

Call that emotional intelligence, call it psychological leadership, call it reading the room, call it human context.  

It’s what’s this video shows on the way football used to be. And it is one of the videos I use in my leadership courses.
It depicts Brian Clough addressing his players before a game. He assesses the room. Realising who needs a word and who doesn’t. Well, have a look.


Sport used to be dominated by leaders like Clough. And they are still massively important. Just look at Klopp. They will NEVER be replaced.

It is they, guys like Xavier at Getafe, or Matt at Real Salk Lake, who unlock the power of AI. They indeed have the EQ to speak to their CEOs and to head coaches with authority.

AI will change the world.
I personally have no doubts.
And quickly. Dramatically. 


The only competence it will not easily acquire is predicting the irrationality of human behaviour

We therefore still need great sport scientists with extraordinary EQ.


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