Emeagwali, a beacon of hope for Africa

October 28th, 2010

1989-gordon-bell-prize-presented-to-philip-emeagwaliNewsRescue- In times when the African continent as a whole hardly has its praises sang. In times when negatives about Africa are more commonly depicted than positives, a few men have stood out more than any other to restore dignity to a disenfranchised continent and turn hopes and dreams into feasible, mathematical realities. We are talking of the likes of Nelson Mandela, denied, imprisoned, chastised, but later recognized, instated and celebrated. No doubt, Nelson Mandela, labeled a terrorist at a time, who spent over two decades of his life years in jail and then was released and elected president of South Africa, will forever be celebrated as one of the greatest men that ever lived.

But today we talk about another great beacon of Africa’s problems, potentials and promise. Mr Emeagwali, Professor Emeagwali, aka “a father of the internet”, aka “digital giant”.

Some may not know this great African who hails from Nigeria, others know him by many great accolades, and some others know him by great controversy.

CNN calls him “a father of the internet“, Time called him the “unsung hero” behind the internet, the US president, Bill Clinton called him “the Bill Gates of Africa,” and BBC in March this year, 2010, interviewed him among others as a “digital giant“.

Gordon Bell Presents Prize to Emeagwali
Gordon Bell Presents Prize to Emeagwali

So who is this simple, yet complicated fellow. Phillip Emeagwali was born in the Eastern part of Nigeria, Africa’s largest Nation of over 100 million citizens.  He was brought up during trying times of civil war in Nigeria and according to him was strengthened by the trials associated: “The hardship of living in a refugee camp made me psychologically strong. It is called learning from the school of hard knocks. It made me street smart. It equipped me with a greater sense of determination and vision.”

A dropout and outcast

A serial school dropout, Emeagwali learned non conformance and independence from formal establishments. His personal interests speared him and in his early life, he studied books of  Galileo, Isaac Newton, Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein. A desire to be an astronaut and mathematician brought him to the United States and into college to pursue his dreams.

Father of the internet

In the 1970s, Emeagwali theorized that 65,000 computers around the Earth could forecast the weather. That theoretical supercomputer, with 65,000 nodes, is today’s Internet. For the audacity of his theorized Internet, the book “History of the Internet” and CNN called him one of the fathers of the Internet.

For this early hypothesis, books on the origins of the internet have described Emeagwali as one of the fathers of the internet as have various media publications and academic institutes. In his speech at the University of Michigan, he described himself as not the father of the internet, but of course, one of many successive and contributory minds that in the collective inspired what we know as the internet today. In his words- “the internet inspiration has not only fathers, but aunts, brothers, sisters, etc, and the answer to the rather simple question, who is its father, is extremely complex”. Other main contestants for a great role in fathering the internet are the New York teachers association and the United States defense services.

Emeagwali the Supercomputer man

In 1989 Philip Emeagwali programmed the Connection Machine to compute a world record 3.1 billion calculations per second using 65,536 processors to simulate oil reservoirs. For this feat, he was awarded the Gordon bell software prize by the IEEE, the worlds largest professional association for the advancement of technology, a body of over 85,000 scientists. Most other winners of these awards were teams, like the Mobil team that won an award the same year. Emeagwali won as an individual an accolade deserving of an entire team of 100s.

At the time of his winning this great feat, Emeagwali was not having the best academic time once again in his life. Indeed the story of professor Emeagwali is very common among geniuses. Albert Einstein, was known to have had a very unsuccessful school life and often cut classes and used the time to study physics on his own or to play his violin. He passed his examinations and graduated in 1900 by studying the notes of a classmate. His professors did not think highly of him and refused to recommend him for a university position. He first got his diploma from a polytechnic. The renowned Stephen Hawkings too was also known to have been awarded a second class at graduation from college. In college, Hawking was passing, but his unimpressive study habits resulted in him having a final examination score on the borderline between first and second class honors, making an “oral examination” necessary.

Emeagwali was having his doctoral dissertations rejected by predominantly White boards at this time, in a MLK and Rosa Parks America, and he ended up not receiving this degree even upon taking the establishment to court several times. But his genius and role forever in the history of science had been established. Emeagwali from his personal endeavors and the strength he had learned as a child where he was forced to have truncated schooling and had to learn and make his way on his own, had done so again in his adult life and still continues to do so, against all odds,  not just for himself but for the entire Black race who all face similar disappointments in a world not perfect. In his words, “living in America, I was an outcast in the scientific world, that I yet conquered”. Much can be read of his achievements on his site- www.Emeagwali.com

With his success, academic journals that formerly rejected his work turn to praise:

“The amount of money at stake is staggering. For example, you can typically expect to recover 10 percent of a field’s oil. If you can improve your production schedule to get just 1 percent more oil, you will increase your yield by $400 million,” wrote the 1989 Gordon Bell Prize Committee in the academic journal Software (May 1990).

In the bimonthly news journal of the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics, mathematician Alan Karp wrote: “I have checked with several reservoir engineers who feel that his calculation is of real importance and very fast. His explicit method not only generates lots of megaflops, but solves problems faster than implicit methods. Emeagwali is the first to have applied a pseudo-time approach in reservoir modeling.” (SIAM News, May 1990)

His words on configuring the supercomputer:

Briefly, to program it requires an absolute understanding of how all 65,536 processors are interconnected. The processing nodes are configured as a cube in a 12-dimensional universe, although we only use it to solve problems arising from our three-dimensional universe.  To perform the world’s fastest computation, I divided and evenly distributed the calculations among the 65,536 processors and then squeezed the most  performance from the each processor. It took me 1057 pages to describe the hundreds of mathematical equations, algorithms and programming techniques that I invented and used. The gory details will be of interest to only mathematicians and super computer nerds. However, for your amusement, they include equations such as:

Emeagwali’s  greatest new challenges

EmeagwaliThe greatest grand challenge for any scientist is discovering how to prevent the spread of HIV and finding the cure or an effective vaccine for AIDS. What he calls, the greatest “war” of our times.

Indeed Emeagwali is a Martin Luther King from Africa. He has used 100% of his well earned respect and power in the technological society and world at large to be a tireless positive and motivational speaker for the Black race. Today, no other black man compares to Emeagwali when it comes to speeches for the hope, resurrection and restoration of the African continent and Africans all over the diaspora to their esteemed heights. From Trinidad and Tobago to his home country, Nigeria. Emeagwali has given speeches upon speeches, stressing the challenges ahead and why and what Africa needs do to prevent further problems and situate itself well to compete in an internet world, with the internet being the “eight continent” as he puts it.

In March this year, while being interviewed by the BBC, in their “digital giant” series, Emeagwali suggested and predicted that Nigeria and Africa will be the highest internet connected Nation in the world, superseding the United States and that we must prepare for this time. He also suggested the use of digital technology to solve one of Africa’s greatest issues,- corruption especially at the electoral level. Indeed knowing Emeagwali‘s predictions for their scary accuracy, there should be real hope for Nigeria as the technological future promises to return Nigeria to a front position among Nations.

Nat. Geographic: Black Pharaohs

A Black Pharaoh

Like the pharaohs, who the world for years denied of being black, but not until recently, about two years to be precise after many pro-African scientists had relentlessly published limitless evidence about the true color and ethnicity of the pharaohs, did the western system acknowledge the Black pharaohs, and as we see in this edition on of the National Geographic magazine, full coverage on the Black Pharaohs. So also is Emeagwali denied in many circles, especially at home.

Indeed the proverb that “A prophet is denied in his own home”, has never been more presented than in the case of Emeagwali. Nigerians continue to question the truth of his accomplishments for one reason,- they do not see a western conferred degree on his name.

Nigerians and the love of titles

In Nigeria, if there is no title to your name, you are nobody. Greetings in Nigeria go thus- I am Dr, Chief, Professor, Alhaji, General so-and-so. If you do not complete an education in Nigeria you are never recognized. Not surprising, Bill Clinton respectfully compared Emeagwali to Bill Gates, another man known to have dropped out of college, yet made his mark, but Nigerians are not so embracing, hence form the first to date, Nigerians keep struggling to discredit Emeagwali because his dissertation was not accepted, possibly because as with the case of many geniuses, his superiors could not appreciate his higher intelligence and possibly out of racism. An outcast of the system, he says of himself.

Where are his publications? Why does he accept being called “a father of the internet”?, Why does he praise himself? These are some of the rather embarrassing questions Nigerians ask of Emeagwali. Most of these type of questions however do not deserve address because the merit of his achievements are clearly available in authentic online and global media archives and by world governments and these speak louder than any type of distortion, either borne out of jealousy or self hate as the case may unfortunately be.

Controversy, SaharaReporters attacks Emeagwali’s wife and more

Recently for instance a Nigerian online editorial known for its dog-like attacks of Nigerian public figures, published an all out attack at the dignified Emeagwali. But upon reading the article it was simply another case where the usual shameful method of dirty mud-slinging used by similar media houses for lack of better tools was obvious. Almost the entire article poorly challenged statements purportedly made by Emeagwali’s wife and not himself. We believe this was very unfortunate, but this was not a surprise to many readers who associate this magazine with similar disingenuous publications about people, like the late Nigerian president, Yaradua’s little son having fun, or other officials families, sitting innocently. Family attack is used by Nigerian media who unlike the United States and other developed media where certain standards must be upheld, act lawlessly and disgracefully.

Bill Clinton says there are thousands of Philip Emeagwalis. Please stand up!

Indeed the then president of the United States was not just reading a speech, he was reading a well thought out, and prepared lecture for Nigerians in particular and Africans in general. There are many Emeagwali’s in Africa, but they are lost under the pressure of a hostile system. They are smashed as Nelson Mandela got smashed and they loose their will and desire to stay alive till their time again comes and they are to lead the nation they love. Unlike Emeagwali they drop out of school, just once and quit, and never become known by their families, talk-less the entire world for their true worth. Emeagwali dropped out of school in his childhood, not once, not twice, not thrice but more than four times yet he trained himself and he did so so much that now, he is a Professor emeritus, a trainer of not just himself but of computers and men alike, teaching others everyday to be strong, to be determined and most importantly, to be unconventional, seeing behind at what other don’t see and not giving up where others fail.

Unlike many Africans’ Emeagwali continues to see a hope for Africa. This hope requires a lot of effort, but all the same Emeagwali one of the worlds greatest mathematicians calculates a sure and certain great future for Africa with the result of the leveling of world scenes with technological advancements. To be great in a technological world, no degree is required, no travel is required no prior experience is required, just having the knack of it, and your fingers on the keyboard make you known from your little, solar panel powered shack in Enugu to the farthermost corner of China.

The 1000’s of Emeagwalis in Nigeria, please stand up and follow the torch that Emeagwali, the non-conformant supercomputer, digital giant has lit and with which he calls upon you to be the greatest!

Listen to and watch the speech of Professor Emeagwali on the October 1st 50th year anniversary of Nigeria in 2010

Sankofa Mythic bird
Sankofa Mythic bird

Sankofa Mythic bird mentioned by Emeagwali in Golden Jubilee speech

Fabled Sankofa Bird. The Sankofas’ head is always turned backwards, thus “facing the past.” The Sankofa represents the old African adage “Always remember the past for therein lies the future, if forgotten…” We are destined to repeat it.