Wits University will be the home of the second IBM Research Laboratory to be built in Africa. The company already has twelve labs across the world, including one in Kenya, with this latest addition being part of a 10-year investment programme through the South African Department of Trade and Industry. The announcement was made in February 2015, during an IBM ThinkForum held at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg.
In choosing Wits and partnering with the Department of Science and Technology and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), IBM’s South African researchers will work closely with local universities, research institutions, innovation centres, start-ups and government agencies to bolster South Africa’s emerging innovation ecosystem and help develop the next generation technology skills.
The lab will be located in Braamfontein’s new software hub, Tshimologong Precinct – home of the Joburg Centre for Software Engineering (JCSE) that is a three-way partnership between government, academia and industry. Opening in April, the lab will focus on advancing big data, cloud computing and mobile technologies. The IBM investment will include sponsorship of an academic program for under- and postgraduate students in disruptive technologies.
Headed by Wits Professor Barry Dwolatzky, the JCSE is multifaceted with various programmes and facilities positioning it as a focal point of a software development industry for South Africa and the rest of the continent.
The lab’s inner-city location will allow it to explore the role of advanced digital technologies and big data analytics in urban renewal. Mobile technologies, global positioning systems, cameras and sensors are becoming ubiquitous in cities, thereby providing opportunities to re-imagine the delivery of services such as transportation, energy and security. IBM’s researchers and partner organisations will develop solutions using computational modelling, Internet of Things and cognitive systems to engage more effectively with citizens and help revitalise inner-city areas in South Africa and around the world.
The South Africa-based researchers will also explore new approaches using big data analytics and cognitive computing to increase the efficiency, scalability and effectiveness of healthcare in resource-constrained environments in the country and across the continent. IBM Research is already engaged with the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) to research new treatment approaches to fight TB. Using big data technologies in bacterial genetics and drug susceptibility tests, the work is increasing understanding of the genomic mechanisms that cause resistance to antibiotics.
IBM’s new researchers will also contribute to the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) radio telescope project, which aims to answer fundamental questions about the origins of the universe. In one of the most ambitious science efforts ever launched, scientists from South Africa will work with those from ASTRON, the Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy and IBM Research – Zurich to collect and analyse unprecedented amounts of big data from deep space that contain information dating back to the Big Bang more than 13-billion years ago.
The South Africa IBM research team will be led by Dr. Solomon Assefa, formerly a research scientist at IBM’s flagship Thomas J. Watson Research Center in Yorktown Heights, New York. He was named one of the World’s Top Young Innovators under 35 by MIT’s Technology Review in 2011, and a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. Last year he was named a Fellow of the Ethiopian Academy of Sciences.
Contact Barry Dwolatzky, University of the Witwatersrand, Tel 011 717-6390, email@example.com