IBM hopes its gameshow-winning supercomputer will help Africa "leapfrog" other economies

International Business Machines (IBM) has launched a 10-year initiative to bring its game show-winning supercomputer Watson and other cognitive systems to Africa.

The company hopes this will "fuel development and spur business opportunities" across the world's fastest growing continent. The initiative has been dubbed "Project Lucy" after the earliest known human ancestor, and will see IBM invest $100 million (£61.2 million) in the initiative, giving scientists and partners access to some of the world's most advanced cognitive computing technologies.

The investment is part of IBM's project "The World is our Lab," which seeks to "tell the other side of the continent's story."

Named after former IBM president Thomas Watson, the supercomputer first came to public attention three years ago when it beat human contestants in the US television quiz Jeopardy.

The supercomputer's power lies in its ability to interpret natural language and answer questions from a vast database of information.

"In the last decade, Africa has been a tremendous growth story - yet the continent's challenges, stemming from population growth, water scarcity, disease, low agricultural yield and other factors are impediments to inclusive economic growth," said Kamal Bhattacharya, Director of IBM Research for Africa.

"With the ability to learn from emerging patterns and discover new correlations, Watson's cognitive capabilities hold enormous potential in Africa – helping it to achieve in the next two decades what today's developed markets have achieved over two centuries."

Towards this goal, IBM is also establishing the new pan-African Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Development (CEDD) and is recruiting research partners such as universities, development agencies, start-ups and clients in Africa and around the world.

Prof Rahamon Bello, vice chancellor of the University of Lagos, agreed, saying that "for Africa to join, and eventually leapfrog, other economies, we need comprehensive investments in science and technology."

IBM recently announced the creation of a new $1 billion (£607 million) division for Watson.

IBM also plans to use the supercomputer technology to provide a cloud-hosted marketplace through which developers could partner with the company to create Watson-powered apps.

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