On Tuesday, computer giant IBM announced a 10-year plan to improve cognitive computing throughout Africa. The program will work to develop data for different sectors of the African economy and will work to connect more Africans to the digital ‘cloud,’ where they will be able to assess information on health and education. According to Dr. Robber Morris, the Vice-President of the Global Labs department of IBM Research, the program will allow Africans to use their mobile phones to “ask relevant questions on health and other areas of interest to human endeavor and receive instant answers through their phone.”
This new IBM program represents an important and interesting investment by IBM into the African ICT community. As mobile phone usage continues to sky-rocket throughout the continent, the opportunity to utilize such technology for a variety of means continues. While the IBM program has not fully begun, and little information exists on the particulars of the program, it makes theoretical sense to try and take advantage of mobile phone usage and make it easier for individuals to access important information about health and education.
While the program is obviously in the early stages, I think it is very important that IBM both ensures local buy-in of their program and ensures that the information is available in a variety of languages. The program announcement does not mention working with local communities to spread information about the program, and the seemingly top-down approach that the program takes is troubling. Additionally, ensuring that the information is available in a variety of languages will ensure that it is as easy as possible for individuals to access the information.
Overall, the program is an ambitious attempt to try and improve the access of vital heath and education information to more individuals. It will be fascinating to see how the program is implemented over the coming decade.