IBM to Spend $100 Million to Bring Watson Technology to Africa

International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) is raising its bet on Africa by spending $100 million to bring its Watson technology to the continent.

The world’s biggest computer-services provider plans to introduce Watson, an artificial-intelligence system best known for beating humans on the “Jeopardy!” game show, to government agencies, universities, scientists and other partners in Africa to process socioeconomic information, the company said in a statement. It will also establish a research center to help advance a 10-year IBM initiative to spur development.

The moves are part of an effort by Chief Executive Officer Ginni Rometty to make the continent into a growth engine for IBM, which has reported seven consecutive quarters of falling revenue. Last year’s 5 percent sales decline in its traditional growth markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China helped drag down total revenue.

In Africa, “we’re getting more partners and we’re helping the economic development,” Solomon Assefa, an IBM researcher, said in an interview. “Africa is really moving forward. We believe that this investment reflects that it’s also a very good business decision.”

IBM will be expanding its investment in Watson as the Armonk, New York-based company looks to data analytics to boost growth. IBM said last month that it will spend $1 billion to create a new division around Watson, which analyzes troves of data and can answer questions in conversational language.

Research Center

Last year, the company opened a research laboratory in Nairobi, Kenya, its 12th in the world. In 2013, IBM had operations in more than 20 African countries, up from four in 2006.

Watson can analyze large amounts of data after the information is uploaded to the tool. Assefa said IBM’s new research center, the Center of Excellence for Data-Driven Development, will serve as a central point for universities, government agencies and other partners to upload data. Assefa declined to comment on partners for the project.

Health care and education will be two initial focus areas for which IBM intends to deploy the Watson technology, he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Barinka in New York at abarinka2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net

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