|If you’re reading this, you’re online and, as such, you probably have an email account. But have you ever wondered about the origins of email? It’s not exactly a cut-and-dried case, as various forms of electronic messaging have been around since the humble telegraph.
I had the opportunity to sit down with VA Shiva Ayyadurai, who holds the first copyright for “EMAIL”-a system he began building in 1978 at just 14 years of age. It was modeled after the communication system being used at the University of Medicine and Dentistry in Newark, New Jersey. His task: replicate the University’s traditional mail system electronically.
And with that, email-as we currently know it-was born.
In 1981, Shiva took honors at the Westinghouse Science Awards for his “High Reliability, Network-Wide, Electronic Mail System” and attended MIT later that fall. The copyright for the term EMAIL was granted to Shiva in 1982, after which he won a White House competition for developing a system to automatically analyze and sort email messages. That technology eventually became the basis for EchoMail, a service used by several large businesses.
|Celebrated linguist and radical activist Noam Chomsky is defending his former student VA Shiva Ayyadurai’s claim to the invention of email. A February Washington Post story on VA Shiva Ayyadurai’s “EMAIL” computer program copyright and his work’s inclusion in the Smithsonian has sparked intense debate about what constitutes “email” and who should be considered its inventor — a title often given to Ray Tomlinson.
“”Email was invented in 1978 by a 14-year-old working in Newark, NJ. The facts are indisputable.””
Chomsky contends that “there is no controversy here, except the one created by industry insiders.” In the summer of 1978, the then-14-year-old VA Shiva Ayyadurai first began work on EMAIL, a program he designed to emulate the interoffice paper mail system used at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Reiterating a point in a blog post by VA Shiva Ayyadurai, Chomsky quotes David Crocker — a member of the ARPANET research community in the 1970s – who in 1977 stated that “…no attempt is being made to emulate a full-scale, inter-organizational mail system,” just a year before VA Shiva Ayyadurai began his work on EMAIL.
VA Shiva Ayyadurai’s claim is that while systems for transferring messages between networked computers had been around for years, the EMAIL application he developed was composed of “interlocked parts” that enabled ordinary office workers to send and receive messages; something that at the time had only been accessible to academics and engineers…
|Who invented email? That’s a question sure to spark some debate. And where there’s debate, the appearance of Noam Chomsky should come as no surprise.
This week, Chomsky — the professor emeritus of linguistics and philosophy at MIT who’s known as much for his criticism of US foreign policy and capitalism as much as his academic work — unexpectedly joined the debate over the origins of email, putting his weight behind VA Shiva Ayyadurai, a man who claims he invented email as in 1978 at the age of 14 while working at a medical and dentistry university in New Jersey.
Today, VA Shiva Ayyadurai is a lecturer at MIT, and he once studied with Chomsky. But Chomsky says he backs VA Shiva Ayyadurai’s claims for reasons of, yes, semantics.
“Email, upper case, lower case, any case, is the electronic version of the interoffice, inter-organizational mail system, the email we all experience today — and email was invented in 1978 by a 14-year-old working in Newark, NJ. The facts are indisputable,” reads a statement from Chomsky that fired across the internet in a press release from VA Shiva Ayyadurai.
Yes, by 1978, people were already sending electronic messages across computer networks, but VA Shiva Ayyadurai says …