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IBM opens Johannesburg arm of Africa Research Labs

IBM opens Johannesburg arm of Africa Research Labs

IBM Research has opened its second research location in Africa in Johannesburg where it will carry out projects in the areas of data driven healthcare, digital urban ecosystems and astronomy following six-months of research into the region's technology needs.

The new lab's team of scientists will collaborate extensively with the Kenyan Lab which was established nearly three years ago, as well as local universities, research institutions, innovation centres, startups and government agencies according to IBM.

Solomon Assefa, Director of IBM research in Africa and head of both the Nairobi and Johannesburg Labs, says the choice to build the lab at Wits University's Tshimologong Precinct in Johannesburg is in order for the technology company to become an engine or seed for change on the continent.

"We want to be the catalyst for the technological revolution that is happening right here in Braamfontein and we know for sure that that is going to spread throughout the African continent. We have three thematic areas that we have chosen. Our scientists are using cognitive computing, internet of things, cloud computing, and mobile computing to make breakthroughs in data driven healthcare - our scientists are developing cognitive computing solutions that are going to revolutionise how we do clinical decision making. We also have another thematic area which is digital urban ecosystems. As many of you know urbanisation is spreading throughout the continent and by 2025 we expect that about eighty percent of Africa's population will live in urban areas. We are going to help officials make better decisions when it comes to service delivery and sustainable development. And finally, we are also exploring the the universe using cognitive computing. We are working with the SKA to make scientific discoveries and also to use the data set that is coming from the radio telescopes to advance the field of machine learning which will lead us to the next era of cognitive computing."

Concerted approach

Assefa has emphasised that the Nairobi and Johannesburg Research Labs will work closely together, although effort will be made to cater to each geographical area's specific needs.

"Southern Africa is definitely a little bit different from Eastern Africa and a little bit different from Western Africa, so depending on the location there are some national priorities and some challenges. What is interesting is that the approach we use stays the same, if you look at the technologies we need to develop in order to tackle these challenges they are going to be the same. It is all about cognitive computing, IoT, mobile computing and so forth. That definitely helps tie all the projects because scientists at both labs could be working on these projects. We also utilise the same platform in terms of how we create our partnerships. We are definitely a joined lab - we have IBM Africa and within that framework we have two labs."

IBM has not revealed the cost of the new Research Lab except to say that it is funded by the 6% of revenue the company invests annually into research and development around the globe.

Dr Zeblon Vilakazi, Deputy Vice-chancellor at Wits University has urged African students and professionals to find ways of becoming part of the Research Labs' projects.

"We have made it a challenge for ourselves to raise our current number of postgraduate students who are international students and they will largely come from the African continent. A third of our students must come from abroad and although we are a university based in South Africa, our footprint has to be based across the continent. We want to make sure that there is a sizeable number of African scholars from the continent based here and we have partnered with universities across the continent as part of the alliance of research universities. We would like much bigger inter-africa collaboration. This Lab is part of the process of ensuring that we help that process starting with Kenya and South Africa"

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