Black Inventions Museum

The following are answers to questions submitted by Lady Sala Shabazz, the founder and curator of Black Inventions Museum travelling exhibit. Lady Sala is also the author of "Little Know Black History Facts," which is featured daily in the "Tom Joyner Morning Show." This interview was used to prepare a documentary that was taped at the annual convention of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Convention on July 12, 2000.


Black Inventions Museum: Can you tell us about your family background?

Emeagwali: I was born on August 23, 1954, to a 16 year-old-mother (Agatha Emeagwali) and 33-year-old father (James Emeagwali). When my parents got married, my father was twice my mother's age and such marriages received parental approval. Things are different today and I am only four months older than my wife, Dale.

I am the oldest of nine children. Being the oldest child, I did a disproportional amount of the housework and I my day begins at about 4:00 a.m. Like many African kids, I started working (without pay) when I was about five years old!

At the age of nine, my father decided to reduce my household chores so that I could spend more time doing extra mathematics assignments --- solving 100 mathematics problems a day. That was a shrewd move on his part because those daily maths drills improve my skills from a mediocre student to maths whizz and gave me the solid foundation that enabled me to become a supercomputer expert who solves the most difficult mathematics problems in science and engineering.


Black Inventions Museum: Can you tell us about your educational background?

Emeagwali: I had my elementary and high school education in Nigeria, west Africa. It was a British style education and my favorite subjects were mathematics and physics.

I came to the United States in 1974 and did my graduate study in mathematics, civil, ocean, coastal and marine engineering and computer science.

I now conduct research on Internet and supercomputing technologies with an emphasis on applications from the fields of petroleum engineering, weather forecasting and global warming.

In the 1970s and 80s, nobody understood how to program computers a hundred processors and it was impossible to educate and teach that subject. Therefore, my knowledge of massively parallel programming (of thousands of processors) is self-taught.


Black Inventions Museum: Can you tell us your inventions?

Emeagwali: Within the petroleum industry, I am know for inventing a method for programming computers with thousands of processors so that it will enable oil companies to recover more petroleum from oilfields. This problem was very difficult to solve and was classified by the United States' government as one of the twenty most difficult problems in the computing field. I won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize for this invention.

I have also invented methods and procedures for making computers faster and more powerful. These methods enabled me to use 65,000 processors to perform the world's fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989. The technology was not accepted in the 1980s and my work demonstrated that it should be accepted. Using thousands of processors is now the standard method for manufacturing the most powerful supercomputers.


Black Inventions Museum: Can you describe your inventions and how they work?

Emeagwali: The computer that I programmed to perform the world's fastest computation has 65,000 processors. The processors are interconnected like a hypercube, which is a cube in 12-dimensional universe. I divide my scientific problems into 65,000 parts and assign each part to one of the 65,000 processors. Then I program each processor to compute and communicate with other processors.


Black Inventions Museum: Which of the inventions is very important to you (though they are all important)?

Emeagwali: The invention that brought me the most recognition is the one that I used 65,000 processors to perform the world's fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989 and solve one of the twenty most difficult problems in the computing field.

It is important to me because it brought me acclaim when I won the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize which is described as computing's Nobel Prize. I got the most satisfaction when young students write that I have inspired them to study computer science.

It is important to society because it is now the accepted technology for building the most powerful supercomputers.

It is important to you because the technology used to manufacture supercomputers will eventually be used to manufacture the personal computers that you will have on your desk.

It is important to the petroleum industry because it helps oil companies recover more oil and reduce the price of gas.


Black Inventions Museum: What are/is your plans in future?

Emeagwali: I am conducting research on the structure of a global superbrain or World Wide Brain that, hopefully, can replace the World Wide Web, as we know it today. The World Wide Brain (WWB) is a digital superbrain that is uniformly and intelligently-connected international network of powerful computers that can take the Internet to the next level, such as scanning the human brain onto the WWB so that some of our great-grand-children can attain digital immortality. I consider the WWW to be the larval stage of the WWB and expect it to eventually metamorphose into an intelligent superorganism or "brain of brains."

It is a versatile technology that can be microminiaturized and used to increase the power of personal computers. It can also be used on a megascale to build the most powerful supercomputers that can be used for more accurate global weather forecasting or simulating nuclear weaponry.


Black Inventions Museum: What advice do you have for the youth?

Emeagwali: Life is a journey of about 80 years. You spend the early years preparing for the latter part of that journey. A good education is the best preparation for your journey.


Philip Emeagwali's Website

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

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