Philip Emeagwali, a famous Nigerian computer scientist said he did not have the easiest upbringing; he was only able to attend organized school until he was 14 due to the fact that his father could not afford to any longer, as well as due to the fact that the schools were suspended regardless due to the Nigerian Civil War (“Dr. Philip Emeagwali: Inventor of the World’s Fastest Computer”). Emeagwali did end up serving in the war, fighting for the Biafran Army. After serving in the war, he completed the equivalence of a high school education through his own self-study.At the age of 17 Emeagwali was awarded an academic scholarship to Oregon State University, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in mathematic in 1977. He furthered his education by attending George Washington University and earning a Master’s degree in ocean and marine engineering in 1986. Additionally, at the University of Michigan, Emeagwali also studied for a Ph. D from 1987-1991. Excerpts:
.Philip Emeagwali is quoted as the Father of the Internet, supercomputer, world’s fastest supercomputer, parallel processing, high performance computing, parallel computing. Tell us more
I’m Philip Emeagwali. Scientific knowledge is the first son of God. Science pre-existed before humanity and before our planet, the Earth, was formed 4.6 billion years ago. One of the science news headlines was that an African Supercomputer Wizard in the United States had experimentally discovered how and why parallel processing makes computers faster and makes supercomputers fastest and invented how and why to use that new supercomputer knowledge to build a new supercomputer that encircled a globe and encircled it in the manner the internet encircled a globe. I am that African supercomputer scientist that was in the news back in 1989. I was in the news for experimentally discovering that parallel processing is an entirely new way of supercomputing across thousands or millions or billions of processors. Parallel processing
is defined as the technique of fastest supercomputing that is fastest by computing many things
at once, or in parallel, instead of computing only one thing at a time, or in sequence.
Prior to my 1989 experimental discovery, parallel processing was widely caricatured and rejected as a huge waste of everybody’s time. Parallel processing was rejected for four reasons. The first reason the parallel processing supercomputer was rejected was because supercomputing in parallel had performance problems. That is, in the 1980s and earlier, parallel processing supercomputers could not compute faster than sequential processing supercomputers. The second reason the parallel processing supercomputer was rejected was because it was physically impossible to experimentally discover how to harness 64 binary thousand processors and harness them to compute together to solve any of the twenty toughest problems in supercomputing.
Those extreme-scale problems were called the twenty Grand Challenges of supercomputing. The third reason the parallel processing supercomputer was rejected was that programming supercomputers to solve a system of coupled, nonlinear, and time-dependent partial differential equations of a new calculus made research computational mathematicians deeply uncomfortable. In particular, to parallel process via emails sent to and from sixteen-bit long email addresses and to parallel process the most dense, abstract, and impenetrable equations and to parallel process their algebraic approximations and to parallel process their floating-point arithmetical calculations that must be executed across sixteen times two-to-power sixteen, or across one binary million, email wires is like dancing in the fire. The fourth reason the parallel processing supercomputer was rejected was that I, its discoverer, was black and African.
My research and experimental discovery of parallel processing was not taken seriously in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
My 1,057 page research report on the massively parallel processing supercomputer was rejected six times and rejected by three universities and rejected by scientific journals before it was eventually accepted by the supercomputer community.
In the 1980s, the massively parallel processing supercomputer was unfathomable and for that reason a president of an American university that had an annual research expenditure of one billion dollars and his five supercomputer experts threw my one thousand and fifty-seven [1,057]-page supercomputer research report into the trash. When a newspaper journalist writing about my experimental discovery came to interview those five supercomputer experts they couldn’t do the interview. The reason was that they never read or understood my supercomputer research report. So I was not taken seriously until The Computer Society of the IEEE—The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers—gave me the top prize in supercomputing.
To put my dilemma in context, back in the 1980s, it was impossible for an all-white scientific jury to give me the top award in computer science. The award committees asked for my photograph or insisted on a face-to-face interview that will reveal the fact that I am black and African.
In the 1980s, only one award committee did not demand my photograph. I won that award and it made the news headlines that a black African had won the top prize in supercomputing. The controversy prompted the award committee to change their rules and to demand a face-to-face lecture that, in turn, made it impossible for other black supercomputer scientists to win the top prize in supercomputing.
What is your background in Nigeria?
I was born in Akure and raised in mid-western Nigeria. My parents were born and raised in Onitsha. My father, James, was a nurse and my mother, Agatha, was a homemaker. I am the oldest of nine children.
The Nigeria that I grew up in was a lot different from the Nigeria of today. When I was young, my mother could feed the entire family on one pound (two Naira) a month. You could walk at night without worrying about armed robbers. The Governor of mid-western Nigeria, Samuel Mariere, lived in a modest house with no electricity in our neighborhood in Agbor which makes me believe that politicians of that era were not very corrupt.
Dick Tiger’s fight for the world boxing championship in Ibadan and Nigeria-Ghana soccer matches were the most talked about sports event of my childhood.
Highlife music was very popular then and I still have my collections of the music of Rex Lawson, Victor Uwaifo and Victor Olaiya.
We fled to eastern Nigeria in May 1967 because of the massacre of thousands of Igbos in northern Nigeria.
Living in Biafra was like living in hell. We lived in bombed-out buildings, abandoned school class rooms or refugee camps.
We stood in long lines to receive relief foods — powdered milk and eggs, cornmeal and dried stock fish called okporoko — flown into Biafra by charity organizations.
I was in Onitsha the night it was captured by the Nigerian army. It was a night that bullets and rockets rained in the streets of Onitsha and armed Nigerian soldiers were shooting at unarmed women and children.
Were there any special experiences during your childhood that influenced your choice of career?
My father believed that mathematics was an extremely important subject and invented a teaching method that he believed will make me a mathematics prodigy.
Each evening, he will place a clock in front of me and drill me on how to solve 100 mathematics problems within 60 minutes. After one year of daily mathematics drilling, I was solving 100 problems per hour. Because I had only 36 seconds to solve each problem, I could not write down all the intermediate calculations and I would mentally perform some calculations and write down the answers.
Because of the speed and accuracy with which I performed mathematical calculations I gained a reputation as a math wizard. Classmates accused me of using juju magical powers in my mathematics examinations.
In 1965, I was accused of cheating in my mathematics entrance examination to Saint Georges Grammar School, Obiaruku and denied an admission. The reason was that I finished the one hour examination in five minutes and scored 100 percent while the next highest score was 57 percent. The school did not believe that a ten-year old is capable of such a feat.
Also, to become a scientist requires years of financial and emotional hardships, particularly for black African scientists living in the United States. Living in a war refugee camp teaches you to be mentally and physically tough. In 1977, I was unemployed and homeless in Washington, D.C. The hunger that I experienced was comparable to that in Biafra. Because, I lived in a war refugee camp, seven years earlier, I drew upon that experience to survive.
My early aptitude in mathematics influenced my present career as a scientist that uses advanced mathematical methods and supercomputers to solve engineering problems. Growing up in Biafra taught me how to persevere through difficult times.
How did you manage to come to the US?
I decided to study in the United States because I learned that I could work and study simultaneously whereas in Nigeria I could only study and I might not get financial support. My second reason for coming to the United States is that I wanted to become a scientist and felt that the United States will provide more opportunities than Africa.
I applied for admission in 1973, the admission officer was impressed by entrance examination scores and gave me a tuition scholarship, without my applying for one. During my visa interview, the consular officer was also impressed with my academic credentials and overlooked the fact that I did not and could not pay my living expenses from Nigeria, which was the standard requirements. I arrived in Oregon in March 1974.
What is your educational profile in general? : All this could come under a broadly phrased question: Could you please tell us something about your background?
I had my primary and secondary school education in Nigerian catholic schools. Catechism was a requirement in primary school and I was an altar boy in high school.
It was a British-influenced educational system in an African environment. The heroes and heroines of all our textbooks were British, particularly white explorers that discovered Nigeria and missionaries that risked their lives to save our souls. To maintain the myth of white supremacy, the British history books expurged the fact that black people were the first to discover Nigeria and the River Niger and that it was black people that gave science, mathematics, medicine and religion to the world.
I learned how the Englishman William Wilberforce lead the fight against slavery but the text book did not mention the famous Igbo author, Olaudah Equiano (Maazi Ekwuano), whose writings on the evils of slavery has been a classic reading for 200 years. I find it amazing that this Igbo man, Olaudah Equiano, was the “Father of African-American literature” and yet his life and work is not studied in Nigerian schools. I learned about Equiano from African-American scholars.
We revered Englishman Mungo Park for discovering the source of the River Niger, which has been known to Africans for thousands of years. On the other hand, we were not taught that Mathew Henson, an explorer of African descent, was the first person to discover the North Pole.
When we fail to teach our children about the contributions of the black race to world civilization they grow up doubting their ability to intellectually compete with whites.
My secondary education in Nigeria was disrupted three-times and I eventually dropped out, even though I was considered an outstanding student. But don’t feel sorry for me because some of my school mates who were outstanding students also dropped out for financial reasons. The sad part is that Nigeria can never reach her full potential if good students are forced to drop out of school to go into petty trading at Onitsha market.
Because of the Nigerian civil war and family financial problems, I completed eight and half years of formal classroom education in Nigeria. I taught myself various subjects and passed the entrance examinations to the University of London and American Scholastic Aptitude Tests with top grades.
I came to the United States in March 1974 to study mathematics, physics and/or astronomy.
I enjoyed the American system of education because it also allowed me to take diverse courses in fields such as philosophy and the liberal arts. The only drawback in my undergraduate education is that I was working full time while completing a four-year degree in three years, which didn’t leave me much time to party, much to my regret.
The schools that I attended were predominately white and many black students find themselves socially isolated by the white students.
In graduate school, I studied various engineering subjects (civil, environmental, petroleum, ocean, coastal and marine engineering), mathematics and computer science. The reason I studied so many subjects is that American research organizations prefer to hire only white scientists and the only way I can compete in this field is to be ten times better than other job applicants.
What are the major influences on your work?
The African mathematician, Euclid, influenced my work more than any other person. I use various geometrical figures such as this compound of the small hexagonal hexecontahedron and its dual small snub icosicosidodecahedron to design algorithms and computers such as the hyperball.
I used Euclidean geometry to formulate my theory of tessellated models for parallel computing and to introduce the concepts of parallel data spaces. My theory of tessellated models demonstrated that sphere packing and fast calculations needed to recover and discover more oil are related subjects.
The African mathematician Fibonnaci also influenced my work. I used his discovery of the breeding patterns, called the Fibonacci series, to design the Emeagwali-Fibonnaci hypertree computer networks.
I used ideas from the field of chemistry to design algorithms, software and computers that are enantiomeric — that is, have left- and right-handed versions like shoes.
The major influences on my work are from African scientists. Euclid never set his feet outside the African soil and lived in a city that is predominately black, with a few Jewish and Greek immigrants that were not interested in scholarship. Euclid is regarded as the world’s greatest mathematician and his book, The Elements, is the second most reprinted book in history. It is second only to the Bible. He is most likely a black African.
Fibonacci was also born and raised in Africa but later emigrated to Europe and subsequently became renowned as the greatest mathematician of the Middle Ages.
Chemistry or “chemetic science” was derived from the word “chemet” which is the ancient name for Africa or “land of the blacks.” In other words, “chemistry” literally means “the black man’s science.”
Are you working on anything which could be mass-reproduced for ordinary use?
I prefer to conduct research investigations that will benefit the masses. My earlier work that helps oil companies recover more oil benefits the masses, particularly in oil-producing countries like Nigeria.
Presently, I am studying how the Information Superhighway could help developing countries. The developed countries are moving into the Information Age while some of the developing countries are moving into the Industrial Age.
Information Superhighway is analogous to traffic highways in many respects. With traffic highways, a business woman in Onitsha can use an automobile to travel to Lagos to conduct her business. However, when a fiber-optic line is used to connect Nigerian cities, she can have a face-to-face business transactions with her business partners in Lagos without leaving Onitsha.
To get into the Industrial Age, you need traffic highways and automobiles. Analogously, to get into the Information Age, we need to connect Nigerian cities with fiber-optic lines and then provide millions of computers that can be used to exchange electronic messages and have face-to-face conversations.
More specific ways that I could help the masses will include using my expertise to advise African governments on: (1) how to provide free Internet access to the masses through public libraries and schools; (2) develop computer hardware and software adapted for African countries; (3) promote the concept of tele-nationalized Nigerians who live in Europe and North America but use the Internet to work for the Nigerian government and people.
The Nigerian government will have to sponsor training programs to bring the Information Superhighway to schools, public libraries and businesses. The initial focus in computer and Internet training should be for high school and college students who will be less resistant to using a new technology.
Students will use the Internet to gain access to educational materials; citizens will use it to exchange ideas; and business women and men will use it to promote their commercial ventures.
I will like to advise the West African Examination Council on how to introduce the Internet as a subject in West African School Certificate Examinations. The Internet course should be a compulsory requirement for all high school students.
The Africa ONE (Africa Optical NEtwork) Internet project will encircle Africa with fiber-optic lines with 41 landing points in African countries in addition to Saudi Arabia, Greece, Spain, Portugal and Italy. The latter landing points will be connected to the rest of the world via intercontinental cables. The Nigerian landing point will be at Lagos. Nigerian towns will be connected to Lagos by fiber-optic lines and Nigerian homes, schools and businesses with personal computers can access the Internet by making inexpensive local telephone calls.
The Internet should also be viewed as a very cost-effective national defense weapon. For example, the Internet could be used to shut down enemy computer-operated air-traffic control system which, in turn, will re-route fighter- and bomber-aircrafts to the airports of a neighboring country.
In the future, countries like South Africa would have the technology that will jam Nigerian military aircrafts with incorrect information that will make it practically impossible for Nigerian pilots to fly.
To put it simply, 1,000-man South African army equiped with latest high-tech gears could defeat a 10,000-man poorly-equiped Nigerian army.
In ten years, computer virus in information warfare will be used by developing countries as their bloodless and low-cost “nuclear weapon.” With a few dozen talented computer programmers, Libya or Iraq could force the United States to surrender by crippling its stock exchanges, banks, electric power and air-traffic. Developing countries with no nuclear warheads would use the threat of unleasing computer virus to deter developed countries from launching a nuclear strike at them.
When you’re not working on computer technology etc., what do you do? How do you relax?
On weekends, I might cook some Nigerian foods while listening to highlife or soukous music.
I love to go to concerts. Recently, I saw concert performances by Jimmy Cliff, Chaka Khan, Tabu Ley Rochereau and King Sunny Ade. I visit the public libraries about twice a week. I enjoy reading the works of African writers and writers of African descent.
On some summer weekends, I do my flying practice on a four-seater single-engine airplane at the local airport. I run ten to 18 miles and occasionally play in local tennis tournaments. I cross-train by swimming, weight training, scuba diving, and cross-country skiing.
My family activities include attending plays or visiting museums.
What motivates you?
I want to expand the boundaries of scientific knowledge and inspire potential scientists of African descent to do the same.
I like to discover and invent because it is a labor of love and an instrument for destroying the myth of whites as the only race of inventors and explorers.
I am motivated when I learn that my discoveries has travelled to places that I have never seen and that I may never see.
What do you think of the belief that inventors are usually crazy people who inhabit a twilight zone to which other human beings have no access?
The stereotype is that there is a high incidence of insanity among those in the creative professions. My observations is that inventors are normal and everyday people.
The media and the public are fascinated by creative and eccentric individuals such as actress Sarah Berhardt who takes a nap in a coffin before her stage performances and novelist D.H. Lawrence who generates ideas by climbing trees in the nude. People are like eccentric people because they will like to do such crazy things but are too embarrased to try them.
Sleeping in a coffin or climbing trees without any clothes does not mean that one is crazy. To be creative requires a different perspective. Berhardt and Lawrence were stimulating their creativity by subjecting themselves to different environments.
Everybody is naturally creative but most suppress that urge by attempting to conform. I boost my creativity by reading widely and thinking critically about the things that I read. I have generated ideas by reading children’s books and ancient history.
I will not do eccentric things like climbing trees in the nude.
You said you are particularly interested in given patterns in nature and that your work has been influenced by the honeycomb etc. How have you used nature?
Inventing things require that we seek new solutions to old problems or accomplish a lot with limited resources.
I boost my creativity by observing how nature has solved problems similar to the ones that I am attempting to solve.
The new problem-solving approach of designing computer networks by observing and emulating patterns in nature is one that I pioneered. Being born and raised in a low-tech African environment enabled me to have a greater appreciation of the usefulness of drawing design inspirations and ideas from natural analogies. Other scientists use a rational and mechanistic approach to problem solving but I use a logistic and inspirational one.
I believe that Mother Nature is a wizard problem-solver which has used trial-and-error approaches, over hundreds of millions of years of evolution, to derived the most optimal solutions.
Furthermore, the trial-and-error approach of nature yields more solutions than the logical approach used by humans. As a result, drawing inspirations from nature has enabled me to discover several computer networks. However, after designing from nature, I use advanced mathematical methods to analyze my inventions.
I observe and use the spacial interactions from other cultures to change my perspective and frame of reference for designing supercomputers. For example, I examine the weaving of baskets and textiles; the construction of bridges, terraces and houses; and the layout of fields and gardens.
Is it really this simple or you are merely simplifying your work for the public?
It is not that simple because I excluded the detailed description of the inner workings of my inventions. The mathematical aspects of my work cannot be understood by the public and it will not make sense for me to discuss the details. The geometrical aspects of my work is transparent in the sense that the public can look at the drawings of my inventions and get an idea of how my invention works.
My research was described in a 1057-page report in which a typical page contains mathematical equations such as the two petroleum reservoir equations shown below.
The above partial differential equations, containing Greek symbols is understandably greek to the public, although a mathematician understands how it can help oil producing countries like Nigeria recover more oil.
My computer program that I used to perform the world’s fastest computation will be mumbo-jumbo to the layperson.
My massively parallel computer program can only be understood by a scientist with many years of training in mathematics, physics, engineering and computer science. In fact, in the 1980’s, nobody in the world fully understood the implications of the above computer code segment.
Since my goal is to inspire people of African ancestry to become scientists, it is best that I selectively discuss aspects of my discoveries and inventions that the public can understand.
You are reportedly working on several projects at the moment which also borrow motifs from nature. Could you describe this on-going research?
I believe that I have answered this question earlier.
When you think of how well established you are in the US and your background in Nigeria, how do you feel?
I find it gratifying to receive recognition for my work. What should not be forgotten is that millions of African students should be nurtured to become scientists and use their skills to develop the continent.
White scientists often take credit for the inventions of black scientists. Black scientists are denied opportunities provided to white scientists. Black scientists have to be twice as good to get half the credit they deserve.
Because Black scientists have to overcome racial discrimination to make their contributions, their inventions is testimony to the triumph of the human spirit over adversity.
When last were you in Nigeria?
I last visited Nigeria in April 1987. I will love to return again when I receive an invitation from Nigerian institutions or organizations.
Do you have any plans to become an American citizen? Or do you intend someday to return to Nigeria?
Where I live is not as important as what I do. I will always be of Nigerian heritage and have an obligation to contribute to the progress of the Nigerian people.
\What is your assessment of the level of computer knowledge and use in Nigeria and Africa?
My seven-year old son has his own computer at home and has one at his school.
As a graduate student, I had access to a dozen supercomputers that cost five to 30 million dollars a piece.
Kayode Ojo, the national president of the Nigerian Association of Computer Science Students, sent me an email complaining about “students who go through universities for 4 years without touching a personal computer.”
An entire generation of 50 million Nigerian school age children are been undereducated. Children are our future, not petroleum. You can predict the future of a country by the quality of education its youth is receiving.
In thirty years, Nigeria’s oil fields will be dried and it will be more difficult to find money to educate our children.
Nigeria has to place a high priority in scientific education.
Most importantly, the Nigerian government should recruit the thousands of Nigerian computer scientists working abroad to teach in its high schools and universities.
Also, personal computers can be manufactured at a cheaper price in Africa. It will be in the best interest of Africa for the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and/or the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to place a restriction on the importation of computers into Africa.
The paradox is that although Africa has 35 of the world’s poorest countries, not participating in the information superhighway will leave the continent poorer. To build an information highway without computers will be analogous to building highways without cars. For this reason, the completion of the Internet project in 1999 will require that the continent start manufacturing computers by 1999.
However, the Africa ONE Internet project will change that. In fact, with the completion of the project, Nigerians can use their computers and telephone to download thousands of movies, newspapers, magazines, photographs, books, and music from the Internet. This will be more exciting than satellite television.
You have the distinction of having invented the fastest computer in the world. Could you explain how you came about the computation that led to this, what makes it unique, and how an oil producing country like Nigeria can benefit from your invention which is said to have simplified oil exploration?
I used 65,536 processors to perform the world’s fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second in 1989. The actual result was four times faster when I used what is called assembly coded routines but it was the slower result that made the headlines.
That achievement made the headlines and alerted the petroleum industry that massively parallel computers can be used to recover more oil. Seventy percent of the oil in a petroleum reservoir cannot be recovered. Successfully running a petroleum reservoir model on a massively parallel computer will enable oil companies to recover additional oil from existing oil fields and discover new oil fields.
My original motivation was to demonstrate that computers with thousands of processing nodes, called massively parallel computers, can solve significant real-world problems. In the late 1980’s, the largest computer (IBM) and supercomputer (Cray Research) manufacturers did not believe that massively parallel computers are useful or will outperform a conventional (vector) supercomputer.
To convince the computer industry that massively parallel computers can solve difficult problems, I used it to solve a scientific problem described by the United States government as one of the 20 most difficult problems in the computing field — simulating how to recover oil from oilfields. Some of the experience gained and lessons learned from that work is what IBM applied to the Deep Blue computer program that defeated Garry Kasporov.
To convince the skeptical computer manufacturers that massively parallel computers can outperformed convectional supercomputers, I programmed a 65,536-processor computer to outperform all supercomputers and achieve the world’s fastest computation.
Nigeria is the world’s 9th largest oil-producing nation and 90 percent of its foreign revenue is from selling oil. Using this technology to recover additional oil from Nigerian oilfields will improve the Nigerian economy.
You talk of a relationship between the construction of bridges, terraces and houses and fields and gardens, and computers. It is still not clear. What is the connection?
My discoveries and inventions are made largely by geometrical intuition and visualization. Discoveries made by intuition are a mystery to others and half understood by the discoverer.
The subject of geometry was invented by black Africans living in the River Nile Valley as a means for measuring and dividing the flooded fertile farm fields and gardens. The word geometry is derived from geo (Earth) and metria (measurement).
Since bridges, terraces and houses are geometrical objects, I use them to sharpen by intuition.
You have been compared to Microsoft’s Bill Gates and Steve Jobs of Apple Computer. Is there any direct connection between your work and theirs?
The connection is that Gates, Jobs and myself made contributions to the computing field. However, there are some differences between Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and myself. First, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs made contributions to the development of personal computers (PCs) while I made mine to the field of supercomputing. Petroleum engineers, mathematicians and others also see it as a contribution to their fields.
PCs are more widely used than supercomputers which cost up to $55 million. However, since PCs are 10,000 times slower than supercomputers, the technology of supercomputers will be used to increase the speed of PCs and my contributions will eventually help the development of PCs.
Second, the contributions of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are primarily entrepreneural while mine is intellectual. My discoveries require far more theory and abstraction and the use of mathematical and scientific principles and methodologies.
In fact, you’ve been described as the “Bill Gates of Africa.” Do you consider this an appropriate description or do you see yourself as something more than Gates and Jobs?
It depends on the criteria — intellectual, economic or social — that is used in such comparisons.
Intellectually, my contribution has more depth than that of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
Bill Gates and Steve Jobs are both billionaires who made their money by selling computer-related products. Bill Gates is the richest man in the United States and has enough money to buy all the oil that Nigeria sells in a year. I cannot buy Nigeria’s oil, but I can help Nigeria discover and recover more oil.
Bill Gates gave a lot to society and society gave a lot ($10 billion ) to Bill Gates. I gave a lot to society and took practically nothing from society.
Socially, my contribution is having an impact among people of African descent who find it inspiring.
Best selling books like The Bell Curve have proposed the theory that people of African descent lack the genes to make discoveries in fields like mathematics and computer science which require an ability to think in abstract terms.
There are millions of young boys and girls in Africa who can win Nobel Prizes in science when given the opportunity that I had. The scientific contributions of Africans will silence many white supremacists and drive a deep stake into their argument that caucasians are the race of explorers, scientists, and inventors.
Most recently, Deep Blue, an IBM computer played Chess with Garry Kasparov, the greatest living Chess grandmaster and won. Do you feel breakthroughs in artificial intelligence are getting to a point when they threaten man as man, and all the values we hold dear as God’s most favored creation?
Unfortunately, IBM and the media is describing the Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov match as a machine versus man contest. I view it as men (computer programmers) versus man showdown. The media ignored the computer programmers that used a massively parallel computer to defeat Garry Kasporov.
It was massively parallel computing technology, not artificial intelligence, which enabled it to perform extremely fast calculations that won.
Those chess grandmasters that believed that a computer can never defeat Garry Kasparov never understood how computers work.
Since the human brain is a massively parallel neural computer, it is conceivable that we could build a massively parallel computer powerful enough to declare itself the King of the Earth, enslave the human race and challenge God as the Supreme Being.
What is scary is that computers cannot forget or make mistakes or have compassion for human suffering. Once it takes over, it would be difficult to plan a successful coup against it.
Deep Blue’s major achievement was its speed and sophisticated parrallel processing. This sounds very close to your own work. Do you think Deep Blue breaks new grounds. Or it is not yet anywhere near your own invention?
Yes, it is very close to my earlier work that demonstrated that massively parallel computers can be used to solve real problems. IBM applied the experience gained and lessons learned from my early work on massively parallel computing to design Deep Blue’s chess program. In that sense, Deep Blue did not break any new scientific grounds.
In 1989, I used 65,536-processor massively parallel computer to to perform the world’s fastest computation of 3.1 billion calculations per second. Back then, IBM believed that it will be impossible to use thousands of processors to solve scientific and for that reason refused to use massively parallel technology in computers such as Deep Blue.
Today, IBM develops and sells massively parallel computers such as Deep Blue which uses 256 processors. Garry Kasparov defeated 1989 IBM Chess computer which used one processor and lost to 1997 Deep Blue which used 256 processors. Since 256 times 256 is 65,536, Deep Blue will be 256 times faster and more powerful when IBM uses 65,536 processors in the future generation of Deep Blue. If I can find a sponsor, I can use a 65,536-processor computer to defeat Deep Blue in a chess match.
Deep Blue massively parallel supercomputer: Deep Blue is based on massively parallel technology which enabled it to evaluate 200 million positions per second while Garry Kasparov was evaluating 3 positions per second. I am not surprised that Garry Kasparov was defeated since I proved in 1989 that this technology works for many applications. IBM has use the Deep Blue victory to provide another proof that the technology works.
Using computers to play chess has something in common with using computers to discover and recover more oil. Both applications are computation-intensive because governing rules must be implemented for several locations or objects.
Deep Blue versus Garry Kasparov game six final position (5/11/97): In chess playing, there are thousands of options and evaluating each option requires thousands of calculations.
In petroleum reservoir simulation, there are thousands of oilfield locations and determining the amount of oil that can be recovered from each location requires thousands of calculations.
With all the poverty, political instability and famine and war in Africa, do you see Africa ever taking advantage of the information superhighway? In other words, the priorities in Africa appear different.
The Information Superhighway is a technology that will create wealth, make it more difficult to plan coups and indirectly reduce famine and war.
African telephones and electricity services are unreliable and three-quarters of the residents have never made a telephone call. In many African countries, it is faster and cheaper to travel than to make a telephone call.
My answer is that the Internet and Information Superhighway is cheaper and more of a necessity than the telephone.
I will use our interview as an example. You will deliver our, say 10,000-word, interview to the Guardian headquarters by email in Nigeria in 30 seconds. The same 10,000-word interview will take ten minutes to fax and 50 minutes to read aloud. Based on these estimates, an email message is 20 times cheaper than a fax message and 100 times cheaper than a telephone conversation.
More importantly, the new fiber optic lines will greatly reduced the cost of sending emails to Nigeria.
The Internet email should be more popular in Nigeria than telephone conversations since the low cost will put it within the reach of the average Nigerian. Since the cost of sending emails from Lagos to Onitsha will be the same as sending from Kaduna to New York, the barriers of space and time will be erased and the average Nigerian would rather send an email than hold a 150 Naira a minute telephone conversation or mail a letter that takes two months to arrive at their destinations, if there are not completely lost.
Seventy percent of the oil in Nigerian oilfields are not being recovered and Nigeria will run out of oil much sooner than expected. We should start planning how to survive when we run out of oil.
With the new fiber-optic lines, that will be completed in 1999, I can demonstrate for the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) how to use those lines to access a $55 million supercomputer in the United States, 7,000 miles away. This supercomputer can then be used to generate a three-dimensional images or an X-ray of subsurface formations of non-petroleum producing locations in Nigeria which, in turn, will enable NNPC to discover more oil fields. Geologists will study the X-ray of each subsurface formation to identify impervious layers of soil that can contain hydrocarbons. Only those layers that seem to contain hydrocarbons will be drilled.
Without this technology, up to $20 million could be spent to drill each well. At the $20 million per well, Nigeria cannot afford to drill hundreds of exploration well in which 90 percent of them could be dry.
The above is only one example out of hundreds.
Developing nations need the Information Superhighway more than developed nations. The Information Age is already here and Africa will become poorer by refusing to take advantage of this modern technology.
I will also like to point out that most African countries like Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Malawi are far ahead of Nigeria in using the Internet. Should the Giant of Africa not be first in embracing modern technology?
What is telepresence technology?
Telepresence is being there without being there. Telephone is a telepresence technology because it allows your voice to be there without your physically being there. What we are working on is on using robotics, virtual reality, computers and Internet to allow one to almost physically be there without being there.
Computers and the Internet has already enabled Igbos living abroad to form a virtual community, called Nno-ko Ndi-Igbo, whose members live in the United States, Canada, Japan, Europe, South Africa and Australia. At Nno-ko Ndi-Igbo, we hold almost live discussions of issues affecting Igbos at home and in the diaspora. We swap stories and ideas with the interactivity and immediacy of African moonlight folktales.
Nno-ko Ndi-Igbo and Naijanet virtual communities are examples of telepresence or being there without being there. The sense of “conversation” will increase in a few years, when Internet phone will be used to transmit both the voice and photograph of each speaker.
You suggest that there is racism in science. Have you been a victim at any time?
I found it difficult to rent a room in the mid-1970’s. Landlords would offer me a room over the telephone and a few hours later, when I show up in person, I would be told that the room has been rented.
Many employers who told me over the telephone that I was the most qualified candidate will later tell me that I did not do well in the face-to-face interview.
White scientists have a deeply-ingrained belief that they are intellectually superior to black scientists and are surprised to read about my accomplishments.
Some white scientists are threatened by qualifications and try to compensate for their inadequacy by petty and mean-spirited attacks. I recently changed my address because I was getting death treats from whites who read my work and saw it as a threat to their white supremacist beliefs.
Do you feel hampered, psychologically, by being a black man and a Nigerian in America?
Absolutely. Whites oppress blacks by denying them the opportunity to contribute as much as they can to society.
I would have made ten times more scientific discoveries if I was provided the same opportunities that Albert Einstein had in this country.
Being Nigerian or foreign-born is not the obstacle. Many top scientists, including Albert Einstein, are foreign-born and educated but are fully accepted by white scientists. I have seen less qualified white scientists who are born in Europe hired over a black scientist.
Nigeria is so unpopular these days in the international community. Do you feel a sense of guilt that perhaps if people like you had stayed back at home or returned, to play a role in government that things could have been different?
Yes and no. The justification for my staying abroad requires a circular, chicken-and-egg-style explanation: I would not have acquired the skills Nigeria needed if I had not left Nigeria. Also, I will not do my best work if I return to Nigeria today. But Nigeria cannot use my skills until I return to Nigeria. A compromise solution is for me to have one foot in Nigeria and the other foot in the United States.
Also, my research requires that I have daily access to $55 million supercomputers which are not available in Africa which, in turn, makes it impossible for me to work in Africa.
Most importantly, my scientific work is an expression of the creativity of the Nigerian people and their contribution to world civilization. Also, it will be used to educate, motivate and inspire the future generations of scientists of African descent.
What kind of future do you see for the information revolution?
To understand and predict the future requires that we review the past. Our Hunter-Gatherer Age lasted millions of years; Agricultural Age lasted thousands of years; Industrial Age lasted about 100 years; and the Information Age began in the 1990’s.
Last weekend, I was invited to California to meet with Malaysian officials and discuss the Malaysian Multimedia Supercorridor. The Malaysian government is spending $5 billon dollars to enable it to skip the Industrial Age and jump into the Information Age. The Malaysian prime minister believes that investing billions of dollars in high technology will enable Malaysia to become a developed country by the year 2020.
Nigerian government should study what Malaysia is doing or risk being left in the dust. It should be remembered that Malaysia and Nigeria were economically at the same level when Nigeria became indepedent in 1960. Forty years later, Malaysia which had fewer human and natural resources than Nigeria has a per capita income that is forty times that of Nigeria.
Better paying jobs will be created when Africa enters the Information Age. Six of the ten richest billionaires in the United States are working in the information field. According to CNN, 50,000 jobs with average salary of $40,000 a year or more were created in Manhattan (New York) alone. These are the kind of jobs we should be creating in African cities.
Is a world dominated by computers apocalyptic?
Cyber wars could be as apocalyptic as nuclear wars. On the other hand, the benefits of computers outweigh their risks.
If man can perform a million functions within nanoseconds with the aid of computers, isn’t there something inherently negative about all this obsession with speed and information?
Is it negative to place a computer chip inside a blind person’s eyes to enable her to see? Is it negative for a computer to beat you in a game of chess? Is it negative to build a robot that will help you do your housework? We have not created a computer that possesses intuition or a soul or that can fall in love.
When you talk of mother nature, there is something ritualistic and animistic about the notion. Are you a Christian?
My scientific vision is influenced by Christianity, animism and mysticism. I attended Catholic schools, sang in the church choir and was an altar boy while in the 7th and 8th grades.
At the same time, animistic beliefs permeated our everyday life. A dibia (spiritual healer) once determined that I am under the influence of mami-wata (mermaid) goddess and that I am an ogbanje (child spirit) who will reincarnate many times. My scientific vision is also influenced by my earlier readings of my father’s Rosicrucian Digest, an AMORC (Ancient and Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) quarterly publication that covers topics ranging from the mysteries of ancient Egypt to metaphysics and mysticism. Metaphysics teaches intuition and visualization techniques — attributes that I use in making scientific discoveries.
Since animism attributes conscious life to nature or natural objects, scientists that have animist beliefs tend to have enormous respect for nature and Mother Earth and are therefore more likely to borrow from it. There are parallels between animist worship of trees, stones, and rivers and my design of the first computer networks that mimick the branching patterns of trees; my formulation of the new theory of tessellation which was inspired by the structure of crystal stones; and my mathematics thesis on river flows. Therefore, the animist religion of my Igbo tribe subconsciously influenced my scientific discoveries.
Africans in the Diaspora are increasingly acknowledging the influence of animism in their lives. In Part of Each Other, Part Of the Earth, Aneb Kgositsile wrote:
“We, Africans in America, come from people tied to the Earth, people of the drums which echo the Earth’s heartbeat …
People tied to soil and wind and rain as to each other …”
After many years of spiritual malaise and environmental catastrophe, animism is being suggested as the salvation of western society. Best-selling books such as Bill Moyers’ Healing and the Mind, and block-buster movies such as Dancing with Wolves and The Last of the Mohicans advocated or romanticized animism. My scientific writings are interspersed with quotations from animist religious leaders.
People can call you from any part of the world, free of charge? That’s quite an offer. Is this philanthropy? Or is it a special privilege you enjoy as part of your work? Who picks up the bills?
It is an incredible offer but not absolutely free because both parties must: purchase a modem-equiped computer with the appropriate software and multimedia capability and spend about $20 a month for access to the World Wide Web and pay local telephone service fees.
It is a great bargain when an international telephone call or fax is charged at a local telephone rate.
You sound like you miss Nigeria, despite your modest beginnings in the country. Tell me, what exactly do you miss.
Nigerians are warm and friendly people. I miss the food a lot. Most importantly, it is my home and as they say: “East West Home is Best.” Basketballer Hakeem Olajuwon spoke for Nigerians living abroad when he said: “There’s no place like home. I will always be from Nigeria.” (“Hakeem Becomes U.S. Citizen,” The Houston Chronicle, April 3, 1993).
If you are called upon to assist the country in anyway, public appointment etc. will you feel obliged?
Certainly. However, I have many committments and would prefer short term projects. More importantly, the one million Nigerian professionals living abroad should be enticed to return to Nigeria.
Nigeria’s main export is human resources. One hundred and fifty years ago, millions of able-bodied Nigerians were exported as slaves to the Americas. In the last few years, one million Nigerian professionals have been exported to Europe, United States and other places.
The Nigerian government does not fully understand what brain drain has cost the nation. In 1979, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimated that each African professional between the age of 25 to 35 contributes $184,000 each year to the United States economy. It is estimated that at least 100,000 Nigerian professional are working in the United States. This means that Nigerians contribute $18.4 billion to the United States economy.
If you adjust for inflation over 20 years the amount of money will be greater. If you include the Nigerians living in Canada, Europe, and Saudi Arabia, the amount will be about $100 billion.
Nigeria’s $100 billion brain drain problem is greater than it’s $10 billion petroleum export. South Korea, Malaysia and Taiwan are doing better than Nigeria because of their human resources.
Nigeria at the moment is not having the best of times in the international community: What is your position on what has now become the Nigerian problem?
It will be impossible to discuss all the Nigerian problems in one day. I believe the most serious problems can only be reduced by properly educating 50 million Nigerian students that are below the age of 18.
Unfortunately, the Nigerian government policy is very short sighted. Petroleum revenue that should have been invested in education was squandered in big elephant projects such as the Ajaokuta steel complex, building the new capital of Abuja, and maintaining a large standing Army.
Ghana spends 27 percent of its public expenditure on education while Nigeria, the 9th largest petroleum producer in the world, spends a mere 10 percent. As a result, Ghana has a per capita income that is twice that of Nigeria.
Nigerian schools only teach students how to read and write. Schools in the United States also teach students moral and character values, critical thinking and good citizenship.
Many Nigerian youths see a rich man as his role model and develops a compulsive urge to make money by any means necessary, including acquiring human body parts for juju magic or smuggling drugs to the United States.
Malaysia, Indonesia and South Korea were at the same economic level as Nigeria when the latter became independent in 1960. By prudent management, these nations have a per capita income that is 40 times greater than that of Nigeria.
The Nigerian problem(s) will be around for many decades and can only be eradicated by properly educating the next generation of 50 million young Nigerians.