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

You Aint' Seen Nothin' Yet

The Ottawa Citizen newspaper (March 8, 2005, page F1) reviews Emeagwali's speech on
"The Future of the Internet" which was delivered to Canadian information technologists.

Book Emeagwali



When most people talk about the future of the Internet, they think 10, maybe 20 years down the road. Philip Emeagwali thinks in millennia.

Having visions of consumer electronics networked to create a "smart home" that can respond to it's owner's commands? Sorry, heard that one. How about a world in which humans with chips in their brains communicate through telepathic email? Forget e-mail, "t-mail" is the future.

It's one of the provocative, some would say outlandish, ideas to flow from the formidable mind of Philip Emeagwali, supercomputer virtuoso, Internet prophet, civil-war survivor and African hero.

Mr. Emeagwali was in town yesterday to share his vision with about 100 government staff on the first day of the Managing Government Information Forum. The forum runs through Thursday at the Congress Centre.

Philip Emeagwali A Father of the Internet

Philip Emeagwali believes vastly more powerful hardware will drive development of the Internet, not software applications.

Superlatives, abound on Mr. Emeagwali's lengthy resume.

In 1989, he programmed more than 65,000 processors to perform the world's fastest computation: 3.1 billion calculations per second.

The feat smashed the previous record and proved that a network of small computers could outperform more powerful, expensive supercomputers.

(Today's fastest supercomputers can perform well over a trillion calculations per second.)

Supercomputers will drive Internet development

He has been called one of the "fathers of the Internet," alongside pioneers such as Tim Berners-Lee and Vint Cerf.

Last year, he placed 35th among 100 greatest Africans ever in a poll by New African magazine. The list is topped by Nelson Mandela and includes Martin Luther King, Kofi Annan and Bob Marley.

Born in Nigeria, young Philip was recognized early as a math prodigy. His father drilled him to solve 100 problems an hour to help pass school entrance exams. But at the age of 12, civil war forced him to drop out and he was conscripted into the Biafran army. He earned a high-school diploma through self-teaching and won a math scholarship to the United States.

He has since earned several degrees , including a PhD in scientific computing, and delved into fields such as oceanography, weather forecasting and oil exploration.

In recent years, Mr. Emeagwali, now 50, has used his knowledge of supercomputers to develop a theory of the Internet's evolution.

He dismisses the common notion that the Internet evolved out of the security needs of the U.S. defense establishment. For him, it was about finding ways for scientists to access remote supercomputers, the colossal calculators housed in scientific and military labs.

And he believes that supercomputers, not software applications such as e-mail and Web browsers, will continue to drive the Net's development.

A century from now, the computers at each node of the Internet will be a "zillion times" faster and more intelligent, rendering the computer, and even the Internet, obsolete. Meanwhile, bionic implants will rewire our brains into computers, he predict. With everyone "logged on" at all times, e-mail will be telepathic..

Mr. Emeagwali realizes this sounds a little out there.

"When you take a long-term view, you sort of get into science fiction," he said. "But if you went back 500 years and told Christopher Columbus there would be e-mail, he would have thought it would be science fiction."

In this case of his supercomputer discovery, fiction was the spark of genius. His idea to harness the power of thousands of computers came from a book that imagined 64,000 humans around the world performing calculations to improve weather forecasting.

Mr. Emeagwali has also distinguished himself for his stand on social issues, such as the effects of colonization on Africa and the ongoing "brain drain" of promising African scholars to the West.

"I'm a black scientist and an African scientist. So when I became prominent, I tried to use that voice, said Mr. Emeagwali, who runs a consulting firm in Washington, D.C., and speaks regularly around the world. "But I've tried to keep it a scientific voice."

He believes technology has the potential to correct some of the world's inequalities.

"If the Internet and telecommunications break down the barriers of space and time, it means somebody in Africa or India, could be employed in the United States or Canada."

Reproduced from The Ottawa Citizen (March 8, 2005, page F1)

Excerpt from Emeagwali's 20-page speech:

Because we like to put a human face on the invention Internet, we ask: Who is the father of the Internet?

So: “Who invented the Internet?”

My answer, perhaps not so romantic as some would wish is that no one individual invented the Internet. In reality, the Internet has many fathers, as well as mothers, uncles, and aunts.

And the Internet was not born at one place or time. It grew organically and incrementally.

The invention of the Internet followed different trails that are non-intersecting, although they converge into what appears to us to be a single technology, the Internet.

We use this collective noun to refer to all the bits and pieces that make information move the way it does these days.

The images below illustrate the concepts described above. They were not used in Emeagwali's speech or published in The Ottawa Citizen feature article.

Philip Emeagwali A Father of the Internet

The above hyperball network was invented by Emeagwali. Although it was originally inspired and designed as an international network of computers for forecasting the weather for the whole Earth it is, in many ways, similar to what we now call the Internet. In its early years, the Internet was a planar network covering parts of the United States. It has now converged to a hyperball "world wide" network covering the entire Earth. In the 1990s, the vector supercomputer was reinvented as a hypercube supercomputer. In a few decades, the computer will "disappear" into the Internet and, in essence, converge to a hyperball-shaped computing and communicating device. Then we will say that the supercomputer is the network, or that the hyperball network is the computer, or that the hyperball network is the Internet.

History of the Internet

Many books on the History of the Internet called Emeagwali a supercomputer and Internet pioneer.

Philip Emeagwali A Father of the Internet

Emeagwali (third from bottom right) was voted history's 35th greatest African.

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