Philip Emeagwali on Inventing a New Supercomputer | Famous Computer Inventors and their Inventions

Philip Emeagwali on Inventing a New Supercomputer | Famous Computer Inventors and their Inventions


TIME magazine called him
“the unsung hero behind the Internet.” CNN called him “A Father of the Internet.”
President Bill Clinton called him “one of the great minds of the Information
Age.” He has been voted history’s greatest scientist
of African descent. He is Philip Emeagwali.
He is coming to Trinidad and Tobago to launch the 2008 Kwame Ture lecture series
on Sunday June 8 at the JFK [John F. Kennedy] auditorium
UWI [The University of the West Indies] Saint Augustine 5 p.m.
The Emancipation Support Committee invites you to come and hear this inspirational
mind address the theme:
“Crossing New Frontiers to Conquer Today’s Challenges.”
This lecture is one you cannot afford to miss. Admission is free.
So be there on Sunday June 8 5 p.m.
at the JFK auditorium UWI St. Augustine. [Wild applause and cheering for 22 seconds] [Seeing the Unseen] What kept me moving forward
towards the first fastest computation that I executed
on the Fourth of July 1989 and executed across
my ensemble of 65,536 tightly-coupled processors
was a back-of-the-envelope, theoretical calculation
that I did in the 1970s. From that back-of-the-envelope calculation,
I theoretically discovered that—in theory— two-to-power sixteen processors
that could only calculate forty-seven thousand
three hundred and three [47,303] floating-point arithmetical operations
per second per processor can be integrated across
a small internet that is a new global network of
65,536 tightly-coupled commodity-off-the-shelf processors
with each processor operating its own operating system
and with each processor having its own dedicated memory
that shared nothing with each other. That is, I discovered, a priori,
that my new internet will become my new supercomputer
that will be faster than the old vector processing supercomputer
that was the industry’s state-of-the-art technology
and that computes less than 3.1 billion calculations per second.
In the 1980s, I was the lone full time programmer
of the only massively parallel processing supercomputer
that was an ensemble of 65,536 processors.
I was a lone wolf research supercomputer scientist
that was not a member of a one-thousand-person
supercomputer research team. Such research teams were funded
by the United States government. Such research teams were funded
to bring the best brains from United States national laboratories
and use that intellectual capital to bear on a grand challenge problem,
or the toughest problem in computational physics.
Such problems were described as grand challenges
because they were perceived to be otherwise unsolveable.
What made the news headlines was that I—Philip Emeagwali—had
invented how to harness those computing units,
namely, a new internet that is a new global network of
65,536 processors. I invented
how to harness those ensemble of processors to process simultaneously
and to process together and to do so as one cohesive whole unit,
or to process in parallel, or to process as one
integrated super processor that is a never-before-seen supercomputer
that is the precursor to the modern supercomputer
that I expect to become the computer of tomorrow.
That is, in the 1970s and ‘80s, my technological quest
was for how to massively parallel process across a new internet
and how to massively parallel process and do so at a time
theorists were theorizing their way through parallel processing.
A theory is not a discovery.
A theory is an idea that is not positively true.
In the 1970s and ‘80s, parallel processing
was ridiculed, mocked, and rejected. Parallel processing was scorned
as a beautiful theory that lacked experimental confirmation.
It’s not possible to experimentally discover the fastest speeds in supercomputing
and discover that fastest speed by merely and only theorizing about
how to achieve the fastest speeds via the massively parallel processing
supercomputer-hopeful. In my experimental confirmation
of the new fastest speed in supercomputing that occurred on the Fourth of July 1989,
and occurred in Los Alamos, New Mexico, United States,
I confirmed that the massively parallel processing supercomputer
can be programmed to increase productivity
and to reduce the time-to-solution of the toughest problems
in extreme-scale computational physics and to reduce that time-to-solution
from 65,536 days, 180 years, on only one processor
to just one day across a new internet
that is a new global network of 65,536 commodity-off-the-shelf processors
that were identical and that were equal distances
apart. After my invention
of the massively parallel processing supercomputer
the technological progress that followed in the subsequent three decades
was a series of cleanups and refinements and re-discoveries.
Three decades later, my invention
of the massively parallel processing supercomputer
enabled China to copy that massively parallel processing
supercomputer and to use the technology
to massively reduce their time-to-solution
and reduce it from thirty thousand [30,000] years,
or ten million six hundred and forty-nine thousand
six hundred [10,649,600] days, of time-to-solution
on only one processor to just one day across ten million
six hundred and forty-nine thousand six hundred [10,649,600]
commodity-off-the-shelf processors. That was how China
—that did not invent the massively parallel processing supercomputer—
massively parallel processed its way to the world’s fastest supercomputers. [My Quest for a New Supercomputer] To enter into the unknown world
of the massively parallel processing supercomputer,
required that I begin sequential processing supercomputing
and begin it on June 20, 1974
in Corvallis, Oregon, United States. I began supercomputing
when I was only nineteen years old. I began supercomputing
at 1800 SW Campus Way, Corvallis, Oregon, United States.
When I began supercomputing, I was new in the United States,
having arrived on March 24, 1974 after receiving a scholarship letter
that was dated September 10, 1973. Then and now,
and excluding athletes only a dozen or so Nigerian teenagers
were invited each year to study in the United States
and offered a four-year academic scholarship to do so.
As an aside, many of the famous computer pioneers
of today were also teenagers in 1973,
and were born at about the same time
—of August 23, 1954— that I was born.
I was born in Akure in the heart of Yoruba Land
in the Western Region of the British West African colony
of Nigeria. I was born in Yoruba Land
to Igbo parents who grew up in Onitsha, Igbo Land,
of south eastern Nigeria and lived in Kano, Hausa Land,
in the late 1940s. My father was educated,
for the six years inclusive from 1942 to ’47,
at Christ the King College, Onitsha, in the southeastern region
of Nigeria. My father left Kano, at age 29,
to come to Akure in 1950 to work as a nurse in the small hospital in Akure.
In the early 1950s, my father’s salary of five pounds a month supported
a dozen extended family members both in Akure and Onitsha, Nigeria.
I was born in a Boy’s Quarter that was at the junction of Eke Emeso Street
and Oba Adesida Road, Akure, Nigeria. Living opposite our compound was Mr. Abiodun
that was described as a teacher and of Education Department. I was born on Monday
under the sign of Virgo. The U.S. president, on the day I was born,
was Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican.
Since Nigeria was then a British colony, Queen Elizabeth the Second,
was the Head of State of Nigeria.
The Governor-General of Nigeria on the day that I was born,
Sir John Macpherson, represented Queen Elizabeth.
When I was born, there were five adults sharing
a tiny room and a tiny parlour, namely, my father
Nnaemeka James Emeagwali, my mother
Iyanma Agatha Emeagwali, my aunt
Nkemdilim Grace Azuokwu, my cousin Vincent Emeagwali,
and my cousin Charles Emeagwali. Aunt Nkemdilim came from Onitsha
three days after I was born and on August 26, 1954.
Aunt Nkemdilim came for three-month ine omugor. Steve Jobs
was nineteen years old then and lived an hour’s drive
from Corvallis, Oregon, and lived in Portland, Oregon.
Bill Gates was nineteen years old then
and lived three hour’s drive from Corvallis, Oregon
and lived in the border state of Washington, United States. [Research Philosophy of Philip Emeagwali] The difference
between the other research physicists, research mathematicians,
and research computer scientists, and myself—Philip Emeagwali,
that was a massively parallel processing
supercomputer scientist— was that those researchers were plowing
the frontier of computational physics or the frontier of modern calculus
or the frontier of abstract algebra or the frontier of the vector processing supercomputer.
Most research supercomputer scientists of the 1970s and ‘80s
were plowing frontiers of knowledge that had already been plowed.
As a massively parallel processing supercomputer scientist
of the 1970s and ‘80s, I did not believe in re-plowing
the frontier of knowledge of the sequential processing supercomputer
or in re-plowing the frontier of knowledge
of the vector processing supercomputer that had already been plowed.
Re-plowing the frontiers of scientific knowledge
that had already been plowed makes as little difference
as searching for new crude oil and natural gas
in the Oloibiri Oil Field of Bayelsa State of Nigeria.
The Oloibiri Oil Field was the first oilfield discovered
in West Africa. The Oloibiri Oil Field
dried up after twenty years of oil exploration
and was abandoned back in 1978. Comparing the new massively
parallel processing supercomputer technology to the old vector processing
supercomputer technology was like comparing
constructing a brand new highway from Cairo (Egypt, North Africa)
through Lagos (Nigeria, West Africa) that is 95 hours of non-stop driving
of six and half thousand kilometers and constructing that brand new highway
to Johannesburg (South Africa) that is 98 hours of non-stop driving
of nearly 7,000 kilometers from Lagos (Nigeria)
and comparing that super highway construction project
to the superficial re-paving of the existing half an hour drive,
45 kilometer highway between my ancestral hometown
of Onitsha (Nigeria) and Awka (Nigeria). That is the reason
the massively parallel processing supercomputer costs the budget of a small nation.
Since the first sequential processing supercomputer was invented in 1946,
the price-performance of the supercomputer dropped continuously and exponentially.
If that pace of technological progress upholds, the supercomputer of today
will become the computer of tomorrow. On the Fourth of July 1989,
I—Philip Emeagwali—entered into the history book.
I was profiled in books such as the one that was titled:
“History of the Internet.” I am the subject of school reports
because I experimentally discovered a new way of looking at the
modern computer. The June 20, 1990 issue
of The Wall Street Journal recorded that I experimentally discovered
a new paradigm, called massively parallel processing supercomputing.
That new paradigm in supercomputing changed how we compute
and changed how we solve the toughest problems
in modern calculus and extreme-scale computational physics.
That new paradigm changed how we solve
the system of partial differential equations that governs
initial-boundary value problems of modern mathematics,
such as general circulation modeling to foresee otherwise unforeseeable
climate changes. That new paradigm
changed how we solve the toughest problems
in extreme-scale computational physics and changed how we solve
those problems in parallel and changed how we solve
those problems at the fastest supercomputer speeds.
I was asked: “What makes a discovery or an invention
newsworthy?” I answered that,
first and foremost, the new knowledge that is embodied
within the scientific discovery or within the technological invention
must compete with new celebrity gossips and new hot button political
and religious issues. For those reasons, a newsworthy contribution
to human knowledge must be bold and strange,
or be a new paradigm, such as be the invention
of the massively parallel processing supercomputer that solves the toughest problems
in extreme-scale computational physics and solves them
in an unorthodox manner that challenges expectations.
Discovering a new paradigm in supercomputing
prompts the leaders of thought in the world of computers
to ask for the discoverer’s telephone number.
That’s how and why Steve Jobs got my telephone number
and contacted me in about June 1990. Back in the 1970s and ‘80s,
parallel processing was ridiculed, mocked, and rejected
as a beautiful theory that lacked experimental confirmation.
Today, we take it for granted that the modern massively
parallel processing supercomputer harnesses the total computing power
of up to ten million six hundred and forty-nine thousand
six hundred [10,649,600] commodity-off-the-shelf processors
that are identical. But to Steve Jobs my invention
of the parallel processing supercomputer was like science fiction
becoming non-fiction. [Wild applause and cheering for 17 seconds] Insightful and brilliant lecture

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