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History & Future of the Internet

Emeagwali answers some frequently asked questions about the Internet.



Can you explain what you mean when you say "supercomputer is the father of the Internet?"

The Internet originated because the supercomputer created a need for it. The Internet is the technological embodiment of e pluribus unum, the Latin phrase “out of many, one.” That is, out of many computers, emerged one Internet. The origin is the point where the computer gave birth to the Internet. That, in turn, was preceded by our understanding that many processors could be harnessed to form one supercomputer. Therefore, it was the supercomputer technology that gave birth to the Internet. The supercomputer is the father of the Internet.

The engine that drives a supercomputer is thousands of processors that are tightly-coupled. We then harness those tightly-coupled processors to compute and communicate simultaneously.

Similarly, the engine that drives the Internet is loosely-coupled millions of computers that we've harnessed to compute and communicate, asynchronously. In other words, the essential work of the supercomputer is concurrent in time while that of the Internet lacks this concurrence in time.

Therefore, both the supercomputer and the Internet in essence are interconnected computing and communicating nodes. Both use communication protocols for transmitting and receiving data. For example, I used explicit message passing communication primitives to exchange information between the thousands of nodes within my hypercube computer. In lay terms, I exchanged email between the thousands of nodes. I used a binary-reflected single-distance code (also known as binary-reflected Gray code or BRGC) address for my nodes while the Internet uses an IP (Internet Protocol) address for each device (node). [The single-distance code has a checkered history was first used in mathematical puzzles, telegraphy (Émile Baudot in 1878), pulse code communication (Frank Gray, March 17 1953. U.S. patent no. 2,632,058)

For example, each of my 4096 nodes must have its own 12-bit unique binary identification number. For a 16-node sub-cube, I would assign the following 4-bit binary number generated from a single-distance code:

Decimal   Binary
  0        0000
  1        0001
  2        0011
  3        0010
  4        0110
  5        0111
  6        0101
  7        0100
  8        1100
  9        1101
 10        1111
 11        1110
 12        1010
 13        1011
 14        1001
 15        1000

Its called a single distance code because the binary identification number of successive nodes differ in exactly one bit position (see bits in bold and underscore). A bit is the acronym for binary digit, which is the smallest unit of information on a computer. Alternatively, we can state that the Gray code is a rearrangement of the 4-bit binary numbers so that adjacent (nearest-neighboring values) differ by one bit position. Since the Internet is not a tightly-coupled computing engine the latter nearest-neighbor proximity is not necessary in assigning IP address numbers to Internet devices. This nearest-neighbor proximity is a necessary condition to achieve fast computational rates within a supercomputer powered by thousands of processing nodes.

Therefore, both the supercomputer and the Internet germinated from the same conceptual idea, namely, the point at which we understood that thousands of processing nodes can compute and communicate simultaneously.

To restate it again, the basic essence of a supercomputer is computation and communication. However, since the supercomputer is defined and designed to be the world's fastest computing machine, it places a greater emphasis on computation.

The basic essence of the Internet is computation and communication also, but the Internet places a greater emphasis on communication.

Why is the Internet different from the supercomputer. The answer is that they each have different focus.

The email is the number one application of the Internet. Emailing is 99 percent communication and one percent computation. The number one application of the supercomputer is solving complex differential equations. Solving differential equations is 99 percent computation and one percent communication.

Yet, the first application of the supercomputer and the Internet is solving differential equations. It happens that the first application on the Internet is the least popular one.

8-bit Single-Distance Code

It will be impractical for me to harness the power of 65,536 processors without assigning 65,536 unique names to them. Since each node is either a source or a destination, each must be have an associated source and destination address.

My required inter-processor was not simple as a unicast (to a single node) or as complex as a broadcast (to all 65,536 nodes). It was a multicast to nearest-neighboring nodes. Depending on my formulation, the number of nearest neighboring nodes varies from six to 26. For my six nearest-neigboring nodes, I used the self-relative addressing of north, south, east, west, up and down.

Since my computation-intensive problem must be subdivided into 65,536 smaller problems, I had to also assign 65,536 unique names to my sub-problems. Alphabetic names are not possible and numeric names expressed in decimal notation are also not practical. For example, processor number 255 (in decimal system) was renamed 11111111 (in binary system). Since 65,536 is originated in the 16th dimensional hypercube, 255 was renamed 0000000011111111. In other words, each of the 65,536 vertices of a 16-cube required 16 bits to uniquely label it and the identification number of adjacent vertices differ by exactly one bit, hence the name single-distance code.


A hypercube graph with 64 nodes

Please note the similarity between the addresses of my supercomputer nodes and that of my website emeagwali.com. My seven-dimensional hypercube supercomputer node number 66 has the address 8-bit 01000010, my 16-dimensional hypercube supercomputer node number 65,535 has the 16-bit address 1111 1111 1111 1111, while the IP address assigned to my web server consists of 32-bit 4 octet address (i.e. four numbers separated by periods) 01000010.11000101.11010100.11000101.

When you visit me at emeagwali.com you are actually at a computer "named" 01000010.11000101.11010100.11000101. Thankfully, emeagwali.com is easier to remember than a 32-bit address. The binary number is important because the computer only understands zeros and ones.

Generating the single-distance code

By definition, the two single-distance indentification numbers of 1 bit (integer values 0 and 1) are zero and one. The single-distance code of n is derived from that of n - 1 bits by (1) writing it forward, (2) writing it backward; (3) prefixing the first half with zeros; and (4) prefixing the second half with ones.

The number 65,536 is equivalent to two-to-power-16. Therefore, its single-distance identification number will be 16-bit long or 512 times more characters than the above. When I realized that this will be roughly the equivalent of 600 printed pages, I considered giving up on this project.

A friend of mine joked that elephants have good memory and could remember just about anything. Since I did not possess the memory of an elephant, memorizing one million zeroes and ones (600 pages) in their exact sequence was out of the question. I had to revert to self-relative addressing which required that I memorize the identification of only four nodes.

Also, my single-distance identification list is circular: it has no tail or head, no beginning or end, or rather the end is next to the beginning. That makes it a supercomputer programmer's delight. For example, I found it easy to, when needed, to barrel shift an entire set of rows (or columns) of very large arrays in a unit time. The reason is that the values that moved off from one edge of the array reappear at the opposite edge.

Even without circularity, I could still shift an entire set of rows (or columns) of very large arrays in a unit time. However, the values that moved off from one edge of the array do not reappear at the opposite edge. Instead, as an option, specified or external boundary values are written at the edges. When external boundary values are not specified, then by default a zero value is written at the boundary. The maximum size of the arrays is limited by the memory capacity of the computer. Note that all the elements of the arrays can be simultaneously shifted and that the time taken to shift one element is essentially equal to the time taken to shift 65,536 elements. In other words, I could simultaneously perform 65,536 interprocessor communications, a key to my achieving fast computational rates.

Finally, when all the required interprocessor communications are performed, the required data is then available within the local memory of each processor, and the grid point calculations, which then consist of simple scalar-matrix operations, can be simultaneously performed without further interprocessor communication.

In the calculations that I performed in 1987, the shift function took 475 microseconds to start and 19 microseconds to shift an element out of a physical processor. Thus, for a virtual processor ratio of 25, half of the time used in performing my shift operation was spent on overhead. The overhead reduced when the virtual processor ratio increased.

shift functions gif

The above is an illustration of various shift functions and below is a code fragment in which I implemented a finite difference approximation of the shallow water wave model for weather forecasting (circa 1983).

$     CVNORTH+CV) 

emeagwali.com is 01000010.11000101.11010100.11000101

My website address emeagwali.com is actually the IP address, written in decimal-dot-notation in which 4 octets (bytes or 8 consecutive bits) are separated by a dot. In other words, typing takes you to emeagwali.com. Each IP address has the format xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx, where the number xxx has a value between zero and 255.

 66 = 0100 0010 
197 = 1100 0101
212 = 1101 0100 
197 = 1100 0101 
Therefore, the IP address of emeagwali.com in binary format is 01000010.11000101.11010100.11000101, which is interpreted as equivalent to


How did you become interested in supercomputers and the Internet?

When I was a child in Nigeria, my father drilled into me the ability of "fast computation" to solve hundreds of mathematical problems in an hour. In the early sixties, only a handful of Nigerians could gain admission into post-primary schools, which required two levels of competitive entrance examinations. A typical examination required solving 60 math problems in an hour. My father made me practice solving 100 maths problems in an hour. I became a human supercomputer without knowing it. I was so good that my classmates labelled me a sorcerer, accusing me of using "juju" (charms, magical powers) and insisted on searching my school bag.

In those days, the most talented Nigerians were accused of using juju. A Nigerian goalkeeper accused the opposing team of using juju to send him seven balls simultaneously. In January 1966, the story goes, a group of young Nigerian coup planners went to arrest then president Nnamdi Azikiwe in his residence. They found in each room seven Azikiwes. The coup planners immediately fled his residence.

Using dangerous charms was frowned upon and I was ostracized and beaten up by some disgruntled classmates.

Also, my father was a failure in school and was using me to fulfil his dreams. Nonetheless, I benefitted from his daily drills and my interest in fast computation continued.

When I was twenty years old, I read a book published in 1922 called "Weather prediction by numerical processes" by Lewis Fry Richardson. It talked about the use of 64,000 humans to perform fast computation for weather forecasting. That book inspired me to invent an international network for 64,000 far-flung electronic computers that were uniformly distributed around the Earth.

My theory of “64,000 far-flung” computers was interesting but was ridiculed by meterologists of the United States National Weather Service. The argument was that it could not be used to execute actual weather forecasts. Hence, in the early 1980s, I turned my attention to more manageable problems such as river flood forecasts on one single computer. I spent five years working, actually volunteering, at the United States Weather Service. Racism in science was so strong that my white co-workers ignored me and regarded me as a part of the office furniture. The lab chief had zero interest in my research project. The only attention that I ever received was in April 1986, when I was given a big send-off party. Looking back, I believe the party was a celebration of their relief that I will not be showing up every morning. It eliminated their anxiety of permanent and close personal contact that will occur if I seek a paid position at their lab.

It was at the U.S. National Weather Service that I understood the meaning of the terms "white privilege" and "invincible black tax." I worked 80 hours a week without pay while all the white scientists worked 40 hours a week with pay. At the end of the year, those white scientists returns, say, 20 percent of their salaries to the government as tax and then look down on me for not paying any taxes. The truth is that I have already paid 200 percent of my income as taxes. I paid tax at a rate that was ten times higher than my white counterparts but was denied the privilege of full citizenship.

By 1986 I had gain more experience, became confident and I realized that I could perform actual computational experiments if I revised the concept from "64,000 far-flung computers connected as a HyperBall" to 64 binary thousand (i.e. 65,536) processors interconnected as a hypercube in a box the size of an automobile. An actual computational results will upgrade my ideas from "theory" to a solid contribution to scientific knowledge.

shallow water wave equations shallow water wave equations shallow water wave equations

Excerpts from my first test-bed code meterological forecasts written in 1983.

shallow water wave equations shallow water wave equations shallow water wave equations

My discretization of weather equations with special notations that I invented for the conceptual programming that I did in the early 1980s.

Mathematician Alfred North Whitehead noted that "By relieving the brain of all unnecessary work, a good notation sets it free to concentrate on more advanced problems." (An Introduction to Mathematics, Oxford University Press, 1958).

In the 1970s, the notation used to write array type problems such as those occurring in the numerical approximations of partial differential equations or cellular automata accentuated the elements of the arrays. While that approach was suitable for sequential computations, it did not emphasize the fact that the operation is on the entire array.

In my conceptual programming, my parallel array notation allowed me to write an entire array as a single entity that will be computed in parallel. I used my new notation to represent the dependent variables which I wrote in bold letters. My notation is language- and machine-independent and allows for a more concise and expressive representation of the communication and computational requirements of grid-based, synchronous, parallel problems.

The superscripts are the indices in the time direction the subscripts are the indices in the x- and y-directions, respectively. I discretized the shallow water equations with a staggered leap-frog finite difference scheme to yield the above approximations.

I used a staggered finite difference grid to reduce the computation-intensiveness of my weather forecast model by a factor of four.

To be shown later are two figures of my two-dimensional domain that is separated as red and black subdomains which are independent of each other. Such staggered grids can be used in many explicit finite difference formulations. The computational workload is reduced by computing the scalar quantities (such as pressure, fluid density, depth, and temperature) on the red (black) subdomains while the vector quantities (such as velocity) are computed on the black (red) subdomains. We can similarly divide the subdomains into four equal parts such as the red, black, yellow, and blue subdomains.

The staggered approach ties together the four independent solutions that arise from the four independent numerical grids of the non-staggered leap-frog scheme. This scheme is second-order accurate in space and time. Since it is conditionally stable, it must satisfy the Courant-Friedrich-Lewy condition. The leap-frog scheme is highly dispersive and therefore often exhibits non-linear instability. As a result, I used a time-filtering parameter to introduce additional numerical dissipation.

I also formulated the three-dimensional analogue for weather forecasts. In practice, the two-dimensional was as computation-intensive as its corresponding three-dimensional model. The reason is that the computation-intensiveness of my test-bed weather forecast code was defined by the memory capacity. The fixed memory capacity requires that an increase in the number of grid points taken along the altitude be simultaneously accompanied by a proportional decrease in the number of grid points taken along either the latitude or longitude or both. In addition, since the three-dimensional model required more arithmetical operations per grid point, and since the memory limits the total number of grid points that can be used, the total number of grid points used in a three-dimensional model is smaller than what could be used in the corresponding two-dimensional model.

Note: The lea-frog method inspired me to coin the now popular phrase "leapfrogging into the information age."

In 1988, I used those 65,536 processors to perform the world’s fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second.

More importantly, I extrapolated my results, which came from 65,536 processors, to reach the conclusion that one trillion processors would be one trillion times faster than one processor working alone. My experiment and discovery implied that there was no theoretical limit to the power of a supercomputer, and that the Internet would eventually evolve to become a single powerful, earth-sized, universal supercomputer.

Philip Emeagwali Weather Forecasting Theatre as a Hyperball Supercomputer, now known as the Internet

Philip Emeagwali Weather Forecasting Theatre as a Hyperball Supercomputer, now known as the Internet

Philip Emeagwali Weather Forecasting Theatre as a Hyperball Supercomputer, now known as the Internet
My illustration of how to design my hyperball computer for weather forecasting. I was the first scientist to invent a computer network that can accomplish what Lewis Richardson envisioned. I have always believed that the Internet will eventually become one hyperball computer with billions of processing nodes.

Richardson's work inspired my use of 64K [K=1024 in computer lingo] or 65,536 processors to perform the world's fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1988.

Specifically, Richardson regarded his idea of of using 64000 human computers to forecast the weather for the whole Earth as "fantasy" [i.e. science fiction]. I proposed that we, instead, use 64000 electronic computers evenly distributed around the whole Earth.

father of the internet, supercomputer, IQ, quotes, family, timeline, bio, net worth, childhood, inventions, biography, computer, dale, invention, invented, Nigerian, African American, black man created
Inspired by the HyperBall international network that I invented in 1975, I used a hypercube computer to solve the world's largest mathematical equations (128 million locations in 1989) for petroleum reservoir simulation. The latter received international recognition in 1989, and my earlier work on the HyperBall which was previously dismissed as "nonsense" was re-interpreted as "ahead of its time." For the latter reason, some refer to me as "one of the fathers of the Internet."


When and where was the Internet invented?

The media tells us that the Internet was invented to help the United States defend itself against nuclear attacks. That story is not true. ARPA was the government agency that oversaw the construction of the earliest network, named ARPAnet. Charles M. Herzfeld, the former director of ARPA, explained:
Why was the ARPAnet started? Most of the early "history" on the subject is wrong. As Director of ARPA at the time, I can tell you our intent. The ARPAnet was not started to create a Command and Control System that would survive a nuclear attack, as many now claim.

As we can see from the above statements, what happened was that in the telling and the retelling of why the Internet was invented, facts became obscured, lost, and added, and we forget why the Internet was invented. The story of how the Internet was invented to enable access to supercomputers evolved into the myth that the Internet was invented to enable the United States to survive a nuclear attack.

The less glamorous truth is that the Internet was funded and built to let mathematical physicists solve their most computation-intensive problems. The Internet was invented to allow computational scientists to access and use supercomputers from remote locations. In the words of the former director of ARPA:

The ARPAnet came out of our frustration that there were only a limited number of large, powerful research computers in the country, and that many research investigators who should have access to them were geographically separated from them.


What is the essential difference between a supercomputer and the Internet?

In terms of physical size, a supercomputer resides within a room, while the Internet encircles the entire Earth. But the driving force behind the Internet has been the supercomputer. Eighty years ago, the 64,000 human computer proposed by Lewis Richardson is what, in modern parlance, will be called a human supercomputer that is configured as a hyperball. Thirty-five years ago, the supercomputer was the driving force that motivated the U.S. government to provide seed funding for the Internet. Fifteen years ago, the national supercomputer centers were the driving force that helped the Internet take off. I believe that the grid (i.e. the supercomputer of tomorrow) will be the driving force behind the next-generation Internet.

Internet2 is the name of the next-generation Internet. Internet3 (or something similar) will be the name of the next-next-generation Internet. Perhaps, we will also eventually have Internet4, 5, 6 and ten. In 100 years, by the time we arrive, at Internet10, the supercomputer and Internet will converge to become one entity. The computer, as we know it today, will become obsolete. Instead, we will be computing without computers in our homes and offices. The Internet, as we know it today, will also become obsolete. Instead, we will be sending tmail (telepathic mail) without email. Tmail which will be a person to person communication will replace email which is a computer to computer communication.

I personally coined the words "InternetX" and "SuperBrain" and used them to describe the most advanced form of Internet that we may have ten-generations from now and beyond. I interchangeably use the words "InternetX" and "SuperBrain."


What will "InternetX" or SuperBrain be like?

"InternetX" or SuperBrain will remain the same size as today's Internet. The Internet is an electronic system that is literally as large as the whole Earth. It is a huge electronic tablecloth that we have placed over the Earth.

When an object is ten thousand miles in diameter, it is good to step outside and look at that object. Only in that way can we see the big picture and understand the total object. It’s sort of like being on an Apollo moonshot and viewing the Earth from outer space.

Therefore, we will gain a clearer understanding of the Internet if we observe it from another planet.

Trying to understand the scope of the Internet while standing on the Earth reminds me of the parable of the nine blind men and an elephant where each blind man based his descriptions of the elephant on a generalization of his sensory perceptions.

The first blind man touched the elephant's knee and cried that the elephant is like a tree. The second blind man touched the tail and argued that it was like a rope. And so on until there were nine different pictures of an elephant.

The most popular software tools on the Internet are email and the World Wide Web. As a result, most people cannot explain the difference between the Web with the Net. Like the nine blind men, people use the Web and then generalize and assume that the Web and the Net are the similar. The Internet (Net) is a computer network while the World Wide Web (Web) is a document network (i.e. system of interlinked documents). The Internet is a machine and the Web is a document within that machine. As an illustration, your letter residing on your personal computer is a portion of your entire computer. Similarly, the Web (document network) is a portion of the Net (computer network).

Because the fiber-optic network underneath the Internet is physically 10,000 miles wide and metaphorically speaking is like an elephant, it is difficult to find two people who will agree on the best definition of the Internet.

To those of us standing on the Earth, the Internet is a tool for sending email messages and surfing the World Wide Web to gather information.

However, to an alien from outer space, the Internet will be seen as millions of interconnected computing and communicating nodes. The alien will see the Internet as a spherical object as large as the entire Earth. That “object” will be seen as transmitting and receiving data as a single entity.


Why do you believe that the Internet will evolve into a SuperBrain?

The term "bandwith" describes the rate at which two computers can exchange information. Because we project the bandwidth to grow exponentially, the Internet will evolve and emulate a single machine that is more powerful, faster and more intelligent than what we have today.

The Internet will evolve into a superbrain because the computers at each node will be a zillion times more powerful. And the communication between nodes will also be a zillion times faster. Perhaps, each node might be a zillion times more intelligent.

When the Internet becomes a zillion times more powerful faster and more intelligent: Something amazing and rather weird will then happen. The computer as we know it today will have become obsolete. Instead, we will be computing without computers in our homes and offices.

I believe that in the 22nd century a teacher will be explaining to her students: "In the 21st century people had computers in their homes and offices. When grid and on-demand computing was introduced all desktops and laptops were tossed away. The computer, in effect, disappeared into the Internet."

I call the future generation Internet "InternetX" or SuperBrain.

Something weirder will also happen at the same time. The Internet, as we know it today, will become obsolete. Even email, will become obsolete. Instead, we will be communicating by t-mail or telepathic mail.


Can you clarify your prediction that the Internet will disappear into a SuperBrain?

It makes sense. The SuperBrain is closer to a computer than it is to the Internet. The Internet will disappear into the universal computer which by itself will literally be as large as the Earth.

A universal computer that is as large as the whole world is not mere science fiction. We have already taken the first embryonic step to build one. That step is called grid, utility or on-demand computing. The United States, the United Kingdom, and a dozen nations have already committed billions of dollars to develop grid computing.


What is the difference between the grid computing, supercomputing and the use of the Internet?

In essence, the grid will close the gap between the supercomputer and the Internet. It is a new technology that lies at the halfway point between the supercomputer and the Internet.

Thirty years ago the driving force behind the Internet was the supercomputer. In the next thirty years the grid will remain the driving force behind the next-generation Internet.

The grid will enable us to do things that we now consider impossible. It will enable unique forms of human interaction. For instance, the grid will take videoconferencing to the tele-immersion level in which a person in Africa will have the illusion of sleeping on the same bed with another person in the United States. Tele-immersion will also enable remote theater rehearshals between an artist and his remote band on the same virtual stage. Perhaps, business travel and face-to-face meetings may become obsolete for most purposes.

In As You Like It playwright William Shakespeare wrote, "All the world is a stage and all the men and women merely players."

The grid in the next thirty years will redefine the word "stage." Today, Femi Kuti and Janet Jackson can only sing a live duet by appearing on the same physical stage. With the grid, we can imagine Femi Kuti, in Lagos, and Janet Jackson, in Los Angeles, both singing a live duet on a digital stage. The world will become their virtual digital stage.

The grid is a hybrid of the supercomputer and the Internet. Supercomputing is next-generation computing. Internet2 is next-generation Internet.


Where will the supercomputer and the Internet be 1000 years from today?

This is a very theoretical question. In 1000 years, I believe that the Internet will remain a spherical network the size of the Earth. However, because it could easily be a zillion times more powerful, faster, and more intelligent, I believe that in 1000 years the Internet will evolve into a SuperBrain the size of the whole world and possibly beyond.

It has been recently demonstrated that disabled persons can use bionic brain implants to control the cursor on a computer screen. I believe that bionic brain implants will be feasible in a few decades which then will enable us to communicate by thought power. "Please turn off the light," you might silently say as you leave your house.

Without realizing what we are doing, we are redesigning ourselves. Our compelling desire to redesign ourselves is deep-seated as a result of the basic creative forces that make us human, and they will remain so. We have embarked on a self-propelled evolution in which we are both the creator and the created. Isn’t that a bit scary, especially if we take a wrong turn and the solution becomes the problem?

Already, we have imbedded our consciousness and intelligence into computers. In a few years, we will succeed in imbedding our computers into our brain. That is, we will succeed in imbedding inanimate intelligence into animate intelligence and living beings. Frankly, the question is no longer "can we?" It is: "should we?"

What will be the results and consequences? One thing that is certain is that technology and biology will merge. Your next-door neighbor could be a cyborg, a man-made alien or a human with technology as part of her body. Can a 100 percent flesh-bodied human marry a not-so humanoid cyborgs with artificial mind?

One thing is certain: We are re-designing ourselves as we wish we were and as we hope to be but not as mother nature wanted us to become. The journey will both exciting and amazing.

As I explained earlier, computers could become obsolete and disappear into the Internet. Hence the computers that we want to imbed into our brains could eventually disappear into the Internet.

That change implies that our minds and thoughts could also disappear into the Internet.

Thus the Internet could unify the thoughts of all humanity.

Unification implies that we will become one people with one voice, one will, one soul, and one culture.


Why do you disagree with the statement that the Internet was invented in the 1980s?

Those are popular myths and misconceptions about the origin of the Internet. The most popular of these myths includes the argument that software such as communication protocols, email, the Web and graphic browsers gave birth to the Internet.

I disagree. Software cannot give birth to the hardware that it runs on. The Windows Operating System did not give birth to the PC. It was the PC that gave birth to the Windows Operating System.

Similarly, it is the Internet that gave birth to communication protocols, email, the Web, and graphic browsers. Thosesoftware were merely practical inventions that helped bring the Internet to the masses.

In fact, the technology was in the air for several decades. It was the email and the Web that helped bring the Internet down to Earth.


Where is this advanced technology leading us to?

It is part of humanity's collective journey toward self-discovery. It is a journey that will help us understand who and what we are and maybe decide where we want to go and want to be in the future.

The theory of evolution taught us that we evolved from lower order primates. SuperBrain will help us understand that all animals and plants collectively existed as one Super Being.

I believe that we will eventually understand that we are not human beings that exist separately from other beings. Instead, we may come to believe that we are small and separate beings that exist within a Super Being.

If we incorporate ideas from the theory of evolution, we may infer that this Super Being has been undergoing self-directed evolution since life first appeared on planet Earth. It is a self-directed evolution toward the direction of greater human complexity. Such self-directed evolution that has resulted in higher collective intelligence.

Super Being is a coherent and self-organizing network of all living biological entities, which possesseS a unique intelligence that is above and beyond the sum of intelligences of the separate living entities. The big idea is not that we existed individually but that we evolved collectively as one Super Being.

Put differently, the properties of coherence, self-organization and interaction are what has enabled the species to synergically form a Super Being with an intellect that is above and beyond the sum of the intellect of all the animals and plants on Earth. Since none of these species can exist independently, we do then exist as One Being.


Are you claiming that humanity exists as One Being?

I am claiming more than that. I am claiming that animals and plants are not distinct beings. I am claiming that all the species co-exist, interact and learn from each other.

The Gaia hypothesis argues that the Earth is a living planet. An alien visitor watching our Earth from the moon will observe a zillion (animal and plant) species that are dependent and interacting with each other with each swimming within the atmosphere, oceans or sub-surface soil.

I am adding another dimension to the Gaia hypothesis, namely, that all living things are inextricably connected and work together as a single entity to ensure survival of all living things as a Unified Being. I am not merely directly connected to my father, brother, and son. I am also indirectly connected to every person, animal and plant. We are all one being -- A Super Being.

I began my journey by studying the interconnectedness between millions of computers configured around the Earth. I learned that interconnected computers do emulate one supercomputer. I then inferred that we could use that knowledge as a metaphor for living entities, which we also instinctively know are interconnected.

Therefore, I have inferred that interconnected animals and plants do emulate one Super Being. This ties in with the essence of my scientific discovery in which I utilized 65,536 weak processor to emulate one Super Processor which, in turn, drove one supercomputer.


Is Super Being the equivalent to theological god?

I said a Super Being, not a Supreme Being. I am not talking of the God that transcends space, time and all things physical.

I am not talking about the theological God described in the Bible or the Koran.

In fact, I am not talking about the existence of an ultra Supreme Being who is omniscient and omnipotent. The term Super Being exists in a biological sense while the Supreme Being exists in the theological realm. Therefore, the acceptance of my theory will be based on reason, not faith.

I experienced one lesson that was deeper and transcended computing. It was an epiphany and a personal Damascus experience. On the road to Damascus, Paul was struck blind, Jesus appeared to him and he converted to christianity. On my search for new knowledge about supercomputers, I made a discovery that changed the way I looked at myself, humanity, and the Supreme Being or what we call God. The lesson was that I set out to reinvent the supercomputer and along the way I discovered a Super Being.


What is your prediction for the next 10,000 years?

If you could travel 10,000 years into the future, you will discover a strange world.

It is a world that I believe will be influenced by our on-going research efforts to implant bionic brains into our human brain.

If we can replace one percent of the human brain in the next 100 years, then at that rate we may be able to replace the entire brain in 10,000 years.

If we can replicate the entire brain, we can download it into the SuperBrain. And if we can download the human brain into the SuperBrain, our descendants will merely exist as pure thoughts.

Our descendants will have achieved digital immortality in 10,000 years.


What is the difference between your HyperBall and the decentralized network?

In the 1970s, the United States funded the development of decentralized and distributed networks that could improve military command and control. My HyperBall is both decentralized and distributed but was originally inspired by global weather forecasting.

Emeagwali's tessellation

My effort to understand how to use 64,000 computers that are evenly distributed around Earth to forecast the weather required that I tessellate the atmosphere into 64,000 subregions. That was how I invented the HyperBall network. Therefore, my HyperBall was inspired by the 1922 book by Lewis Richardson called Weather Prediction by Numerical Process. Excerpts from Richardson's book reads

"It took me the best part of six weeks to draw up the computing forms and to work out the new distribution in two vertical columns for the first time. My office was a heap of hay in a cold rest billet. With practice the work of an average computer might go perhaps ten times faster. If the time-step were 3 hours, then 32 individuals could just compute two pints so as to keep pace with the weather, if we allow nothing for the very great gain in speed which is invariably noticed when a complicated operation is divided up into simpler parts, upon which individuals specialize. If the co-ordinate chequer were 200 km square in plan, there would be 3200 columns on the complete map of the globe. In the tropics the weather is often foreknown, so that we may say 2000 active columns. So that 32 x 2000 = 64,000 computers would be needed to race the weather for the whole globe. That is a staggering figure. Perhaps in some years' time it may be possible to report a simplification of the process. But in any case, the organization indicated is a central forecast-factory for the whole globe, or for portions extending to boundaries where the weather is steady, with individual computers specializing on the separate equations. Let us hope for their sakes that they are moved on from time to time to new operations."


What is grid computing?

The grid is the "next big thing" in computing. In theory, the grid will make it feasible to tap 65,536 computers distributed around the world to process seismic data. In that sense, the grid will evolve into a universal supercomputer as large as the earth.

In practice, the grid is more loosely-coupled than clusters, and comprises of heterogeneous computing nodes. Programming thousands of grid nodes that are linked together is easy. I guarantee you that it will be impossible to extract good performance from heterogeneous nodes. The engine (physics and partial differential equations) that drives seismic and reservoir simulators is tightly-coupled and defined over millions of grid points. Because the grid is heterogeneous, the latter cannot be harnessed to compute and communicate simultaneously. The grid computing model cannot be effectively utilized for seismic and reservoir simulations and hundreds of similar computation-intensive problems.

The grid will converge to a shape topologically equivalent to my HyperBall network shown above.


What are you working on now?

I never left where I began 30 years ago - namely, an international network of 64 binary thousand (1,024) computing nodes interconnected as an earth-sized, HyperBall-shaped, universal supercomputer, otherwise known as the Internet. My project evolved from an earth-sized supercomputer to a supercomputer the size of a car. Now, I am back to an earth-sized grid supercomputer. Thirty years later, I understand what poet T.S. Elliott meant when he wrote: “We must not cease from exploration. The end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we began and to know the place for the first time.”

Since we have reinvented supercomputers to incorporate thousands of processing nodes, my emphasis has shifted from parallel to autonomic computers that can run themselves - doing so by utilizing an interconnect that is self-managing, self-aware, self-healing and self-protecting.

A self-managing computer can run 24/7 for as long as a decade. (This will create unemployment among information technology workers.)

A self-aware computer knows itself and can automatically heal itself by reconfiguring its network to bypass malfunctioning components.

A self-healing computer can discover and diagnose its illness, and can also act as its own doctor.

A self-protecting computer can detect failures and prevent attacks from hackers.

I drew inspirations from botanical trees to design a phytocomputer with an interconnect that emulates the branching patterns of trees.

On the Internet, smart computers are connected to dumb networks. In the future, smarter computers will be connected to smart (i.e. intelligent) networks.

The tessellation that inspired my HyperBall network.

At the Gordon Bell Prize award ceremony, Cathedral Hill Hotel, San Franscisco, CA. February 28, 1990.

Updates by the Webmistress
The book "History of the Internet" contains a detailed description of Emeagwali's contributions to the Internet. Also read the lengthy article entitled It Was the Audacity of My Thinking
to get Emeagwali's perspective on the history of the Internet.

Excerpted from:

  1. History of the Internet, by Christos J. P. Moschovitis, et al, 1999
  2. CNN, http://fyi.cnn.com/fyi/interactive/specials/bhm/story/black.innovators.html


Emeagwali was born in Nigeria (Africa) in 1954. Due to civil war in his country, he was forced to drop out of school at the age of 12 and was conscripted into the Biafran army at the age of 14. After the war ended, he completed his high school equivalency by self-study and came to the United States on a scholarship in March 1974. Emeagwali won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize, which has been called "supercomputing's Nobel Prize," for inventing a formula that allows computers to perform fast computations - a discovery that inspired the reinvention of supercomputers. He was extolled by the then U.S. President Bill Clinton as "one of the great minds of the Information Age” and described by CNN as "a Father of the Internet." Emeagwali is the most searched-for modern scientist on the Internet (emeagwali.com).

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