IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe - July/August 2018 - 14
The Johannesburg lab is
developing ways to deal with
that volume of data. It's already
produced techniques for filtering
out local radio noise. "It's the
ultimate big data project," says
Assefa. "But with the right
partnerships we could position
South Africa as a leader in the AI
techniques used to filter it. And
if we can develop skills in that
area we can apply them to other
big data projects for banks,
retailers and the environment."
And that's key to understanding the future vision that Assefa
has for the facility. As much as
the research is valuable, it's
positioning the lab physically and
societally as a catalyst for change.
With the facility now well embedded into the local ecosystem
for research, the next goal is to
increase its involvement with the
startup community and improve
the number and quality of data
scientists in the region.
Professor Barry Dwolatzky had
a vision to turn a shuttered
nightclub and disused offices
into an innovation hub.
"We want to grow," Assefa says.
"We have exceptional talent that
we've hired locally from South
African universities. We have lots
of interns, lots of young faces at
masters and Ph.D. levels, who
come in on six-month or year-long
contracts to specialize in machine
learning or AI. Our hope is that
many will remain."
Computer-Aided Cancer Care
David Moinina Sengeh is a soft-spoken Sierra Leonean who began working with IBM in 2016 after earning
his Ph.D. from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Sengeh's first project at IBM was with a team of
researchers who deployed and evaluated a decision support system to help a district health management team
in Sierra Leone during the post-Ebola recovery period. He now leads the healthcare team in Johannesburg.
"We want to develop solutions that we can deploy," Sengeh says. "There's a fine line between pushing
state-of-the-art results through innovation and building tools that will actually have impact."
This kind of consideration is key. According to World Health Organization figures, Kenya-population 48
million-had just 12 registered oncologists in 2014. Ethiopia-population 102 million-had only four. A large part
of the problem is "brain drain" (i.e., qualified doctors leaving to practice in places like India, where there are better
facilities and pay).
One of the flagship projects being worked on is a "cancer guidelines navigator," which is being designed
in partnership with medical specialists around the continent, IBM Health Corps and the American Cancer
Society. The plan is to analyze data input into such a tool to explore courses of treatment based on standardized guidelines and global best practices. The solution is designed to assist practitioners with advice
based on local context.
"There's little point recommending courses of treatment that aren't available or that require extra
spending," Sengeh explains. "We're trying to build and deploy solutions that can save time and money and
help people make better decisions."
Sengeh and his colleagues are aiming for a comprehensive solution by integrating data collection platforms
with analytical tools that can inform patient care. Many sub-Saharan nations don't have a national cancer registry.
Even where they do exist-such as in South Africa-it can take five years for records to be manually added.
Digitizing and improving this process will be vital to future research.
14 // JULY/AUGUST 2018 ibmsystemsmag.com