Sometime in February, we heard of two major developments in the area of computing. First, International Business Machines (IBM) announced that its supercomputer the WATSON, which has a vast brainpower, will be utilized in Africa to attempt to solve some of the continent's most pressing problems. Days later, we heard of the QUANTUM COMPUTER from D-Wave Systems, a 13-year old company located in British Columbia. Each of these supercomputers is expected to bring radical changes to our way of living. But can these computers eradicate corruption which is Africa’s biggest problem? In today’s article, I discuss these two supercomputers based on a Time Magazine and BBC report. I begin with IBM’s Watson!
The WATSON is being brought to Africa by IBM in a bid to fuel development and spur business opportunities across the world’s fastest growing continent.IBM Watson is expected to improve and transform the agriculture, education, transportation and health sectors in Africa. It uses artificial intelligence to analyze huge amounts of data and can also understand human language. The WATSON’S cognitive capabilities hold enormous potential in Africa. It will help the continent to achieve in the next two decades what today's developed markets have achieved over two centuries, according to a BBC report.
The WATSON/Africa project dubbed, Lucy, after the earliest known human ancestor fossil which was found in east Africa, will cost $100m (£61m) and take 10 years to complete. Its ability to bring transformation to Africa has been compared to how mobile money has transformed banking and finance on the continent; even though this is yet to pick up in Liberia. But how is this transformation going to happen?
In the area of agriculture, the WATSON is expected to help by analyzing weather patterns using vast amounts of data and its computational powers. In the education sector, schools with poor or non-existent computer resources could link into the cloud-based system via smartphones or portable devices with internet connectivity to benefit from resources made available by the WATSON. In the health sector, doctors, nurses and field workers could use the system to help diagnose illnesses and identify the best treatment for each patient. The WATSON could also help answer why sub-Saharan Africa currently accounts for 22% of all cervical cancers and suggest new ways to treat and prevent the disease.
In the transportation sector, the WATSON will be able to analyze the state of Africa's roads and its ability to offer routes to avoid potholes could save headaches. And analytics on the state of country roads and congestion levels in cities could prove useful for logistics firms that currently have to negotiate pothole-filled roads and traffic chaos. In other words, if a company like DHL or if the Ministry of Post has a delivery system and uses the WATSON, it will be able to improve on delivery times and schedules.
The supercomputer is said to have the ability to help Africa leapfrog other economies. Clever data mining has already proved its worth in Morocco where it has been used to improve how crops are grown by predicting weather, demand and disease outbreaks.
The QUANTUM COMPUTER: The QUANTUM COMPUTER has the potential to solve problems that would take conventional computers centuries, with revolutionary consequences for fields ranging from cryptography to nanotechnology, pharmaceuticals to artificial intelligence, according to the Time Magazine.
Developed by D-Wave, a small Canadian company backed by Jeff Bezos, NASA, and the CIA among others, the quantum computer currently cost around $10 million a piece. The vast increase in power could revolutionize fields as disparate as medicine, space exploration, and artificial intelligence. But what is the quantum computer?
A QUANTUM COMPUTER is a computation device that makes direct use of quantum-mechanical phenomena, such as superposition and entanglement, to perform operations on data. QUANTUM COMPUTERS are different from digital computers based on transistors. They use Qu-bits or quantum bit which is the counterpart in quantum computing to the binary digit or bit of classical computing.
The difference between a normal computer and a QUANTUM COMPUTER is that a normal computer has bits and each bit [is either] zero or one. A QUANTUM COMPUTER has quantum bits. These are made out of quantum particles that can be zero, one, or some kind of state in between. In a normal computer, a particular calculation might go through all the different possibilities of zeros and ones for a particular calculation. Because a QUANTUM COMPUTER can be in all the states at the same time, you just do one calculation. So it can be much quicker.
Time magazine lists 9 Ways in which Quantum Computing could herald radical changes for several areas including but not limited to the ones that follow:
- Make air planes Safer by improving on software that is currently too complex for classical computers.
- Using quantum computing to analyze the vast amount of data collected by telescopes and seek out Earth-like planets or discover new planets.
- Win elections—Campaigners will comb through reams of marketing information to best exploit individual voter preferences.
- Boost GDP—Hyper-personalized advertising, based on quantum computation, will stimulate consumer spending.
- Detect cancer earlier—Computational models will help determine how diseases develop.
- Help automobiles drive themselves—Google is using a quantum computer to design software that can distinguish cars from landmarks.
- Reduce weather-related deaths—precision forecasting will give people more time to take cover.
- Cut back on travel time—sophisticated analysis of traffic patterns in the air and on the ground will forestall bottlenecks and snarls.
- Develop more effective drugs—by mapping amino acids, for example, or analyzing DNA-sequencing data, doctors will discover and design superior drug-based treatments.
The current QUANTUM COMPUTER, the D-Wave Two, of which there are five in existence, is a black box 10 ft. high. Inside is a cylindrical cooling apparatus containing a niobium computer chip that’s been chilled to –459.6°F, almost 2° colder than the Boomerang Nebula, previously considered the coldest place in the universe?
Will QUANTUM COMPUTERS look like desktops and laptops any time soon? Think about earlier computers like the ENIACs and others which filled rooms and were very bulky. It took years before we saw the computer as a desktop and laptop. This is the same with the QUANTUM COMPUTER. The very first QUANTUM COMPUTERS will probably fill a room. It's going to take us a while to get to desktops. What's going to happen is that we are going to see hybrid computing devices that have a quantum chip and a class
All that has been said about both computers, especially the WATSON which is expected to help Africa will face several challenges if it cannot find ways to eradicate Africa’s most UBIQUITOUS problem; CORRUPTION. Corruption has impacted all of the areas the WATSON intends to address: education, transportation, health, agriculture, politics, etc. It has retarded every level of advancement that Africa should have experienced and it is often perpetrated by leaders, those in authority and even the “ ordinary citizen.” Until the WATSON or any other computer finds a way to eradicate corruption all efforts to bring development to Africa will be just that; another EFFORT!