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Philip Emeagwali: An African Innovator breaks barriers

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Philip Emeagwali: an all in one – inventor, historian, scientist and the father of the internet but he is not the typical western science genius.

As Bob Marley’s song “the stone that the builders refuse will be the headstone of the corner“ reigned supeme over the Reggae charts of the  late 1970ˊs, nobody ever thought at that time, that an African young man who has just left his country for studies in the USA will 20 years later, make Marleyˊs  prophecy a reality. He was born in 1957 in Nigeria. His school experience was much the same as like other native African children. He even had to drop out of school at the age of 14 because his father could not pay his school fees. During his few early years in school, Philip showed a proficiency in mathematics. His father encouraged him to continue his education and even tried to tutor him until Philip “knew more than he did.”
After dropping out of high school Philip immersed himself in the public library, reading and studying such subjects as college-level mathematics, physics chemistry and English. When he was 17, he received a scholarship to Oregon State University. He arrived at the University in 1974 and has since earned four other degrees – a Ph.D. in Scientific Computing from the University of Michigan along with two Masters Degrees from the George Washington University.

With the title, “Bill Gates of Africa”, it is easy to see how much of an  impact his intellect has had on the computing industry.  In 1989, the computer system he built became the first system to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second. Philip Emeagwali, a computer scientist and civil engineer, is one of the fathers of the Internet and a trailblazer in petroleum extraction.

He uses his mathematical and computer expertise to develop methods for extracting more petroleum from oil fields. Future applications for Emeagwali’s breakthroughs with the use of data generated by massively parallel computers ends not only in internet applications but will include weather forecasting and the study of global warming.

This record of achievements even surpassed the expensive super computers in the U.S.  He used his computer to help scientists understand how oil flowed underground. His invention garnered him the prestigious Gordon Bell Prize in the USA. This is considered to be the Nobel Prize of computing. Emeagwaliˊs contribution is has found considerable applications now  on the Internet helping to revolutionize our daily lives .

“I received the plaque and prize money for the most coveted award in the field of supercomputing. I was incensed by media reports that I was a novice researcher. On the contrary, I have been around for ten years — training supervisors and lecturers who were paid two to ten times my salary. As Nigerians will say: “Monkey dey work baboon dey chop” (the monkey was doing the discoveries while the baboon was getting the credit.) I finally wised up and became the first and only person to win the Gordon Bell Prize without a co-inventor”
– Prof. Philip Emeagwali

There are many fathers of the Internet Technology and Phillip Emeagwali is one of them. The father of the Internet is not only  Al Gore, nor is it, as many people believe Tim Berners-Lee. In 1980 in the Swiss Alps Berners-Lee was doing a six-month stint as a software engineer at CERN, the European Laboratory for Particle Physics, in Geneva, was noodling around with a way to organize his far-flung notes. What he wound up developing was a “hypertext” notebook that allows us to have the graphical experience we now call the web.

Not only the underlying backbone infrastructure developed in 1969 by Larry Roberts deserves credit to the birth of the Internet.  Larry Roberts was hired by the US Defence Department to set up the Internet through ARPA, which was the precursor to the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The work of Philip Emeagwali  (Emeagwaliˊs Theory) must not be forgotten in this field. It was his theory, which proved the practicability of using 65,000 separate computer processors to perform 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989. That feat led to computer scientists comprehending the capabilities of supercomputers and the practical applications of creating a system that allowed multiple computers to communicate. He is recognized as one of the fathers of the Internet. He is the Father of the super computers because before his time, Supercomputers were very expensive and ranged in price from $30 million to $100 million, and computer companies had reservations about building them for fear few agencies would make such pricey purchases.

“At that time, the argument was, ‘We shouldn’t build computers that way because who can program them?’ ” Said Emeagwali, who is also a civil engineer. “I answered that question by successfully programming them.”  Consequently, this is equally an important historical event as Alexander Graham Bell discovering the telephone. One of the amazing paradoxes of his discovery is that it will eventually cause the traditional telephone systems to go out of business. Nearly all voice traffic is bound to be going over the internet with the Voice over IP (VoIP) system. At the moment, millions of people World-wide have been using Vonage in their homes and businesses and are quite pleased. Many experts are convinced that in the future, we will all be using services like Skype that transfer far less expensively your voice over the internet.

Some famous Speeches from Prof. Emeagwali:
My Supercomputer Discovery
After the Biafran War Was Over
[Emeagwali’s civil war memories]
Speech on Globalization

A World Without Black People
Speech on the African Brain Drain
Emeagwali is the World’s Top Scientist
Poll of 300 million search entries proves it.
Clinton Extols Emeagwali as a “Great Mind”

[Excerpt from his televised speech, as president]

All photos and texts published with this story are with the express permision of the emeagwali.com

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