Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

Saint Paul Pioneer Press




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By Baffour Ankomah

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Computer scientist Philip Emeagwali has advice for parents who want to pry their children from the television set.

Get them on the Internet, he says.

``Studies show that when kids have access to the Internet, they watch less TV,'' says Emeagwali, a consultant who works out of the St. Paul campus of the University of Minnesota. ``And it's the same with adults.''

Philip Emeagwali will be giving Internet demonstrations at the Science Museum of Minnesota.

He has a solution, too, for families who say they just can't afford to get their children on the high-tech trail.

``Some poor people might have two or three television sets,'' he notes. ``And for the price of not having a television, they can have a PC (personal computer).''

Emeagwali - a man who watches just five hours of television weekly, while spending about 70 hours in front of the computer over a seven day span - will be delivering these messages and giving one-on-one Internet demonstrations on Saturday afternoon at the Science Museum of Minnesota as a part of the Fourth Annual African-Americans in Science Day activities.

Science Museum of Minnesota

Eighteen Twin Cities scientists and engineers are lined up to show their specialities to the kids; there will be demonstrations in computer animation, artificial intelligence, cyrogenics and even ``slime-making.''

While the activities are geared to children ages six to 12, organizers says other age groups - as well as kids of all races - are welcome.

The African-born Emeagwali, recognized for his work with supercomputers, acknowledges that explaining the Internet can be difficult, as well as intimidating, to those witnessing it for the first time. Many ``newbies'' - slang for novice users - simply disconnect when confronted with confusing options and terms such as IRC, ftp, gopher and CU-SeeMe.

But Emeagwali says he has a way to demystify the Net.

``Many people have this fear of it and think you have to be a computer wizard to do it, but all you have to do is point and click,'' he says. ``I begin my demonstrations by asking people what they're interested in, and then I'll look it up in a Web directory.''

He shows them Netscape first - the Internet-browsing software that turns a computer screen into a multimedia show - and the many home pages on the World Wide Web. He recently guided an artist through her first Netscape venture. The woman was overwhelmed by the number of online galleries, says Emeagwali, and became sold on the medium.

``Show people what it can do for them and they'll be hooked,'' he says.

Emeagwali is the Net's best salesman; he combines enthusiasm with warnings to those who are stalled in the Luddite mode.

``Being on the Internet is an absolute necessity, not a luxury,'' he lectures. ``Parents have to make it a high priority to get a PC and modem. As more people use the Internet, the more useful it becomes and the more we have to have it.''

Emeagwali predicts the worldwide network will be used by hundreds of millions by the year 2000, and says it's the government's responsibility to see that people on all socioeconomic levels can connect to it.

``It's an investment in the future,'' he says. ``If a child doesn't have access at home, they should have it at school or in a library.''

He knows parents on Saturday will ask him about the pornography scare that surrounds the Internet and solicit his advice for keeping smut away from children. He admits he doesn't have a good answer for it.

``Every technology has its good and bad. That's the price you pay.''

His 5-year-old son Ijeoma has been online for a year, although Emeagwali and his wife, Dale, set his point-and-clicking itinerary and guide the child to Web locations, inspecting them as he would pages of a book.

The father knows that Ijeoma, who is just beginning to read, will soon be able to point-and-click and choose sites on his own. He's already teaching the child moderation.

``You can't spend all your time with computers,'' notes Emeagwali. ``You have to have balance. My son has weekly tennis lessons, too.''
African-Americans in Science Day, Saturday, 1-4:30 p.m., admission $2, Science Museum of Minnesota, 30 E. 10th St., St. Paul., 443-850-0850. Philip Emeagwali's Home Page:; electronic mail:

Reported by James Romenesko
Staff Writer, Pioneer Press
January 27, 1996, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Philip Emeagwali, biography, A Father of the Internet, supercomputer pioneer, Nigerian scientist, inventor

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