IBM launches R700m Research Lab in Johannesburg

A long term commitment to Africa by IBM Chairlady and CEO Ginni Rometty has led to the creation of a 900 square metre, world class research centre in the Tshimolong Precinct in Braamfontein.

Scientists in the new facility will focus on digital urban research, universe exploration and data driven healthcare. Medical treatment across the continent will benefit from health innovations that include early cancer detection and improved diagnosis and treatment of TB and malaria.

Focus on research Wits Vice Chancellor Prof Adam Habib and Gauteng MEC Barbara Creecy opened the centre alongside Rometty who is the first woman CEO of the 104 year old multinational tech company which she is trying to reinvent and refocus on research and development.

She was so confident about Africa’s ability to achieve leapfrog innovation that she expects

“we’ll be back another day celebrating some grand Nobel Prizes”.

Data science is becoming an increasingly important tool in the quest for solutions to the world’s pressing challenges; big data and analytics are being used to improve farming, optimise disaster response management and reduce traffic congestion.

Globally IBM takes in 10% of all Maths PhD graduates, these analysts help improve Watson, an artifically intelligent avatar that famously won at Jeopardy in 2013.

Technologies and location IBM’s head of research for Africa, Solomon Assefa explained that the lab would use advanced computer science, computational biology and the latest in cognitive computing to address some of Africa’s biggest priorities.

Guests at the launch toured the two level facility which features collaborative workspaces, a DIY maker space and a high end health innovation laboratory.

Through the lab, IBM will also be working closely with South Africa’s Square Kilometre Array project as well as CSIR, and both the City of Cape Town and Johannesburg.

The lab is one of only 12 in the world and 2 in Africa, and has been intentionally located right next to Wits University.

This carefully selected location beat numerous other options because of proximity to the university’s advanced research skills which will work with a global team of over 3000 scientists.

Partnerships and Innovation

Prof Habib acknowledged the social polarisation of the country and thanked IBM for a great partnership that has achieved an “ecosystem of technology that will also regenerate the heart of the city”.

Other partnerships include the departments of Science & Technology, Trade & Industry as well as the National Health Laboratory Service.

Government is committed to working with the private sector to drive innovation and has set up the eGovernment initiative to better use technology in the delivery of quality services.

This was announced by Gauteng Premier David Makhura at the State of the Province address and re-iterated by MEC Barbara Creecy at the launch.

“We will use innovation and research to promote smart and efficient modernisation of government services; we will further collaborate with Wits on the development of this precinct to support the creation of IT and digital employment opportunities.”

FNB CEO Jacques Celliers also attended the launch and acknowledged the huge vote of confidence this means for South Africa.

“IBM could have chosen to invest anywhere else in the world, this shows optimism for our country and hope for a future which will be driven by innovation and digital upliftment.”

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