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What does IBM’s $100 million Project Lucy really mean for Africa?

February 6, 2014 • East Africa, Top Stories

 IBM expects Project Lucy to reinforce learning and cognitive computing across Africa. (Image: Wikipedia)

IBM expects Project Lucy to reinforce learning and cognitive computing across Africa. (Image: Wikipedia)

IBM has launched a 10-year initiative to bring Watson and other cognitive systems to Africa in a bid to fuel development and spur business opportunities. Dubbed “Project Lucy” after the earliest known human ancestor, IBM will invest US$100 million in the initiative which will include a pan-African Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Development (CEDD).

The Company aims to develop the ecosystem using its CEDD and there are also plans to open Innovation Centers for Lagos, Casablanca and Johannesburg.

“In the last decade, Africa has been a tremendous growth story — yet the continent’s challenges, stemming from population growth, water scarcity, disease, low agricultural yield and other factors are impediments to inclusive economic growth,” said Kamal Bhattacharya, Director, IBM Research – Africa. “With the ability to learn from emerging patterns and discover new correlations, Watson’s cognitive capabilities hold enormous potential in Africa – helping it to achieve in the next two decades what today’s developed markets have achieved over two centuries.”

Watson technologies will be deployed from IBM’s new Africa Research laboratory providing researchers with a powerful set of resources to help develop commercially-viable solutions in key areas such as healthcare, education, water and sanitation, human mobility and agriculture.

To help fuel the cognitive computing market and build an ecosystem around Watson, IBM will also establish a new CEDD and is recruiting research partners such as universities, development agencies, start-ups and clients in Africa and around the world.

By joining the initiative, IBM’s partners will be able to tap into cloud-delivered cognitive intelligence that will be invaluable for solving the continent’s most pressing challenges and creating new business opportunities.

“For Africa to join, and eventually leapfrog, other economies, we need comprehensive investments in science and technology that are well integrated with economic planning and aligned to the African landscape,” said Prof Rahamon Bello, Vice Chancellor, University of Lagos. “I see a great opportunity for innovative research partnerships between companies like IBM and African organizations, bringing together the world’s most advanced technologies with local expertise and knowledge.”

“The next wave of development in Africa requires a new collaborative approach where nonprofit and commercial organizations like RTI and IBM work together to consolidate, analyze and act upon the continent’s data,” said Aaron Williams, Executive Vice President for International Development, RTI International. “Data-driven development has the potential to improve the human condition and provide decision makers with the insight they need to make more targeted interventions.”

“Africa is facing a double challenge: the lack of accessible data to support its economic development, and the lack of advanced skills in data analysis. IBM’s work to share Watson with Africa will help to address both challenges,” said Michel Bézy, Associate Director, Carnegie Mellon University in Rwanda. “We are really excited by this opportunity for our students and faculty to partner with IBM to solve critical regional problems with the most advanced cognitive technology available.”

Staff Writer

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