IBM continues to find new ways to utilise its Watson supercomputer – the latest application is now Project Lucy, a 10-year, $100 million effort by IBM to work with governments, universities and development organisations to address Africa’s grand challenges.
IBM established its first African research facility in Nairobi, Kenya, last year, and plans on expanding to other countries. Even now, the Watson capability, which is delivered as a cloud service, will be available for projects wherever IBM does business on the continent. IBM Research Director John Kelly promised to bring Watson to Africa in a meeting with business and academic leaders one year ago. He urged them to propose ambitious projects that would require using the most advanced cognitive computing technology in the world.
The team chose “Lucy” as the name for the project because of the significance of the discovery of her fossilized remains in Ethiopia’s Rift Valley in 1974. Just as Lucy was a precursor to humans, scientists see Watson as an early example of cognitive computing.
Two of Project Lucy’s focus areas will be healthcare and education:
– The people of Sub-Saharan Africa are dealing with a wide range of diseases, including HIV-AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. Yet, many get medical treatment from community health workers in clinics. With access to Watson’s cognitive intelligence, doctors and nurses in clinics will get help in diagnosing illnesses and identifying the best treatment for each patient.
– Nearly half the adult population of Africa is illiterate. Schools are understaffed and educational materials are lacking. Social and cultural pressures contribute to missed days of school and poor performance by students. Watson can help school systems evaluate all of the circumstances that are contributing to poor outcomes, identify root causes of problems and suggest solutions.
To help fuel an ecosystem around cognitive systems and big data analytics, IBM has established a pan-African Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Development (CEDD). The goal is to combine forces and collaborate with research partners such as universities, development agencies and IBM clients in Africa and from around the world. By joining the center, IBM’s partners will be able to gain access to Watson.
* This is an extract from IBM’s Smarter Planet blog. For more on this story, click here.