I'm the low-caste, dark-skinned Indian who really invented email and I'm alive!

Unlike Ray Tomlinson, I still don't fit the mould of a high-tech innovator.

 |  3-minute read |   07-03-2016
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Innovators deserve recognition for their accomplishments, which is an important principle in any creative enterprise. Equally important is the principle that neither should recognition be withheld from innovators, who have earned it, nor should recognition be given to those who have not.

On the occasion of Ray Tomlinson's passing, I want to express recognition for his innovations in online communication, such as the introduction of the "@" sign for internet addresses.

At the same time, in a spirit of proper respect for both Ray Tomlinson and for myself, I want to make it clear that I am the inventor of email, not Ray Tomlinson, despite what others might say for reasons of their own.

It is a fact that Ray Tomlinson had been, as Forbes puts it, "experimenting with internal messaging in 1971, and had an idea to send a text message between computers". It is also an obvious and inescapable fact that sending a text message is not email - since email, as we all know, is a system that includes features such as Inbox, Outbox, Drafts, Folders, Attachments, Carbon Copies, Groups, Forwarding, Reply, Delete, Archive, Sort, Bulk Distribution, and more.

The truth is, I invented email in 1978 when I was employed as a 14-year-old research fellow at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), located in Newark, New Jersey.

I had been assigned to create a software system that duplicated the features of the Interoffice Mail System, which was simply a manila envelope that physically circulated around a workplace. The envelope contained the Interoffice Memo with Attachments, and comments from various recipients on a given topic.

I named my software "EMAIL", (a term never used before in the English language), and I even received the first US copyright for that software, officially recognising me as "the Inventor of Email", at a time when copyright was the only way to recognise software inventions, since the US Supreme was not recognising software patents.

More information about my invention of email is available on my website, vashiva.com.

My website also references the fact that that I began life in a low-caste Indian family who later emigrated to the United States, and that I now have four degrees from MIT, including a PhD, and have continued innovating long after inventing email.

I have no doubt that my origin and ethnicity have strongly influenced controversy over my invention of email. This has also influenced the withholding of recognition for that invention, and for personal and racist attacks directed against me.

Such attacks have been facilitated by Raytheon, (Tomlinson's employer), one of the largest military contractors, which profits from spending millions, as we are seeing right now, to deliberately rewrite history as it serves to enhance their brand in the lucrative cyber-security market.

In many ways I just did not fit the mould of a 1970s high-tech innovator. I was not white, I was not working for the military or for a defence contractor, and I must have seemed too young and too naive to stand up for the truth.

But now I am standing up for the truth.

When an online obituary for Ray Tomlinson states that he is "credited for the invention of email", I want to assert that being credited for it is not the same as doing it.

It should also be clear that my expressing that truth is not an act of vanity or vindictiveness. It is simply upholding the important principle of accurate, appropriate, and fully earned recognition, as stated above.

Writer

VA Shiva Ayyadurai VA Shiva Ayyadurai @va_shiva

The author is the inventor of email and a systems scientist at MIT.

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