Supercomputer guru out of Africa, into future
T-mail will replace e-mail, he says. In a century, everyone will be 'logged
on;' communication will be telepathic: Emeagwali
CanWest News Service
March 9, 2005
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 its owner's commands? Sorry, heard that one. How
about a world in which humans with chips in their brains communicate
through telepathic e-mail? 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 Emeagwali, supercomputer virtuoso, Internet
prophet, civil-war survivor and African hero.
Superlatives abound on Emeagwali's lengthy resume.
In 1989, he programmed more than 65,000 computer processors to perform
the world's fastest computation: 3.1 billion calculations per second.
The feat smashed the previous record and proved a network of small
computers could outperform more powerful, expensive supercomputers. (Today's
fastest supercomputers can perform well over a trillion calculations
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 the 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
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 in the U.S
He has since earned several degrees, including a PhD in scientific
computing, and delved into fields such as oceanography, meterology and
In recent years, Emeagwali, now 50, has used his knowledge of
supercomputers to develop a theory of the Internet's evolution.
He dismisses the common notion the Internet evolved out of the security
needs of the U.S. defence 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 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 predicts. With everyone "logged on" at all
times, e-mail will be telepathic.
Emeagwali realizes this sounds like science fiction, he said in an
interview. But 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.
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 Emeagwali, a Washington-based
"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."