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iHub By Anne / February 29, 2012

Fireside Chat with Dr. Robert Morris – IBM Research

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Innovation bubbles up, it doesn’t bubble down. With all the revolutions in computing, majority are revolutionized by the User Experience

Last evening iHub hosted Dr. Robert Morris, the Vice President, Research Services in IBM. He was accompanied by a team of senior global executives at IBM.  Dr. Robert began by talking about his background and personal journey that led him to be head of Research at IBM. He talked about his love for technology and described his introduction into electronics building by digital circuits at a very early age.  While in university, Dr. Roberts signed up for a job as an operator without pay. He wanted to gain experience working with the UNIX operating System. Dr. Roberts talked about one of the applications he developed based on the game of life to explain how humans evolved. He used Anger, Love and Fear to define the prototypes and pointed out that these three basically defined how population grew (when love occurs, reproduction occurs, overcrowding and even death.) This cycle, he described, is the primitive beliefs of human behavior.

Dr. Robert addressing the audience

Dr. Roberts has worked in several companies after that before he ended up at IBM Research. He says the power of the computer fascinates him, because it has led to the development of several applications that can study human patterns.

IBM has changed over the last five years, from making hardware to making very serious enterprise software. They are now trying to use it to change the world. The four growth initiatives of IBM are:

  1. Smarter planet: They look into sectors such as healthcare, education, insurance, traffic control. Lack of information is leading to high mortgage rates- analytics
  2. Cloud  and its deployment
  3. Analytics: before we didn’t have the data, now we have the data thanks to the internet and mobile phone. With the mass of data, what are we going to do?
  4. Growth markets- research at IBM aims to have a model of open innovation. IBM has identified149 growth countries(most African countries fall in this category), and 40 non growth countries (north and south America, Asia)

Together with his team, Dr. Roberts answered a vast number of questions raised by the members of the audience. Some highlights from the fireside chat were in the areas of reality mining, smart networks and user experience. Here is a sample of questions that were addressed during the interactive Q&A session.

Q: Is there money in reality mining?

A:  IBM partners with cell phone companies to do Social Analytics. Through the data collected when people make calls IBM is able to collect useful information which they analyze and the cell phone companies use it for promotions, customer retention, charm reduction. Billions of records a day have to be processed

Q: How much do we invade on people’s privacy and security when mining data?

A: Vast majority of privacy problems can be solved technologically. If one uses one- way encryption to encode data it will solves people’s issues of privacy.

Dr. Robert gave the example of the vehicle registration number.  When motor vehicles were manufactured, a challenge arose as to how to solve the problem of having reckless drivers on the road that needed to be identified. How a level of privacy could be maintained when it came to the individual’s personal details like his name, address and bank account details. A Number plate was used to identify the car and owner, but only the authorities like the police and insurance companies would have the full identification details. In the same way we can create codes to monitor the usage of data and in the case of violation of privacy, then the persons involved can be prosecuted by the authorities.

Dr. Robert said:‘a principle of computer science: – in computing technology, networking bandwidth always lags behind the ability to store.A new way of smart networking will help make things change overnight.  The challenge is to find out if it can be done from mobile applications s with low cost WIFI. To reduce traffic on the network, it is advisable to CACHE content at the endpoint, and encourage REUSEABILITY.’

One of the panelists asked the participants to describe Apple products. From the responses given, a vast majority described them as simple to use, beautiful; users got a great user experience. The point was that developers need to conduct critical research where they ask how the design lends itself to the experience of a user.Adoption is driven by usability-simplicity

Q: How does user experience work out on the IBM font?

A: The software team is dedicated to the usability of software. The services department also does the same.  When passing on an entity to somebody else who will pay for it, the service has to be at the highest standards. IT IS ABOUT USER EXPERIENCE.

Some links for IBM work that supports the user experience both for developers and others are as follows:

http://www.worklight.com/product/worklight-for-rational

http://www.ibm.com/developerworks/

IBM is looking to expand  its presence in Africa to support communities through new and innovative ways that why they were here in Kenya.

IBM thrives on creativity: every employee is encouraged to be creative. Their culture is an innovative culture. Every IBMer is an innovator.

The business process – the way you do things outguns the technology every time! One thing that trumps the business process is if you can create a new business model; not just money; the business of life

Q: Where does IBM see the enterprise market in regions like Africa?

A: Transformations taking place are broad in all sectors: banking, usage of mobile devices: look where the gap is. People want a lot of things. If you can create these services at a lower cost, then you will have a huge market. Look at the problems that you are trying to solve and how you can contribute!

Innovation bubbles up, it doesn’t bubble down. With all the revolutions in computing, majority are revolutionized by the User Experience. Watch for the things that people aren’t doing but would want to do; there you will find how to improve the user experience.

 

Author : Anne

Anne Salim studies the growth of African mobile-based education with a focus on the sustainable use of technologies in schools. Anne is currently a researcher at iHub, where she leads the program on M-Governance. The study has focused on the role of mobile devices for enhancing transparency in governance of the water sector. Anne studied Business Information Technology from Strathmore University and her interests include applying Design Thinking processes to Kenya, as well as facilitating Hackathon events.


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