Tech boom – Watson in Africa

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Information technology in Africa: The next frontier (The Economist) – IBM, along with other tech firms, is setting up shop in Africa, last year opening one of its twelve global research labs in Nairobi.

Africa’s chief attraction is that it has been growing while richer regions have stalled …. Its demographic prospects are promising, too. As America, Europe and China age, Africa can expect a bulge of workers in their productive prime.

Besides seeing the continent as a land of opportunity for new technology in an array of markets both public and private, IBM recognizes the benefits of having a research lab “on the spot” working on that region’s particular challenges.

John Kelly, IBM’s head of research, says that after the firm set up labs in China in 1995 and in India in 1998, “we found that we were getting innovation out of those research labs which could only have occurred in those locations.”

Cloud computing, too, with its ‘pay as you go’ capability, is making technology more affordable to small businesses.

Mr Kelly makes a bolder claim, linking Africa’s emergence to that of “big data”. IBM’s answer to how the world can cope with the rising torrent of exabytes is “cognitive computing”.

The most famous example of a cognitive computer is the Jeopardy-winning Watson, designed to use statistical analysis to find answers from huge amounts of data.

Mr Kelly sees an opportunity “for Africa to move, and move first, to this new era of computing.” It can leapfrog straight to the tech frontier, without worrying about adapting old systems to cope with the data it creates.

See the related post: SHoP designs Africa’s Silicon Valley.

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