Technology lies at the core of national development as its benefits cut across all sectors. Sound decisions should be based on the broadest possible information digest that will allow for informed action. Cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and inductive reasoning are creating a new computing model. Global technology firm IBM has set up research labs and given access to hitherto in-house tech by way of IBM Watson to address humanities most pressing needs. At a colloquium held earlier this week, IBM Research Africa showcased the opportunities present, targeting the continent’s grand challenges, including agriculture, water, energy, healthcare, financial inclusion and human mobility.
As different teams focused their energies along various verticals, the need for a standardized data format was apparent. Many of the big data plays have enormous dividends for governments which are inherently slow and laden with bureaucracy. If standards are not locked down early in the game, we risk confining value into silos; a scenario that has currently stifled innovation not to mention, resulted in duplication of effort in a bid to recreate data that possibly exists in one form or another. This standardized data format will allow for normalization of data and serves as the foundation for the creation of efficient data exchange points. Cross sector gains will be amplified as a result.
The next steps for Project Lucy in my opinion are the most important. This far, it has taken high level interactions and interventions with key partners to develop and showcase the value of technology applied right. Knowing that Watson demands a return on investment, IBM’s engagement with the larger technology and idea communities sprinkled across Africa will determine how fast that return is realized and the resultant relationship with those that birth creative use cases and models.
I would like to see IBM proactively work to help innovators with scalable prototypes or ideas, cover the intellectual property weak spot on a global level, knowing that KIPI and ARIPO on the local and pan-african agenda don’t have much bite to the bark should a commercial exploit elsewhere infringe. IBM having diversified into services from infrastructure is well placed to dialogue with governments. As innovators leverage Watson and other services, a fair return would be a joint solution positioning with a symbiotic business model that will support growth of local enterprise as Africa’s issues get addressed one by one; this of course acknowledging visible effort already underway through the Smart Camp program with linkages to capital for early stage entrepreneurs.
Africa is now entering into a new era with the adoption of cognitive computing and we are best advised to use the resultant data intelligence to power the next century of sustainable growth.