June 5, 2020

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Shiva Ayyadurai, the Inventor of Email, Honored

Shiva Ayyadurai

Shiva Ayyadurai

Ayyadurai receives innovation honor for “his seminal work in the invention of email” and for the creation of CytoSolve, a revolutionary platform for in-silico drug development.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., June 5, 2012 – V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai, 48, an inventor and systems scientist, founder of EchoMail, Chairman & CEO of CytoSolve, and Lecturer at MIT was honored as a TiE Star for his invention of email and ongoing contributions to email technology, as well his recent work to revolutionize drug development.  His achievements provide an inspiring message: innovation can occur any time, any place by anybody.

In the summer of 1978, Shiva, then a 14-year-old boy, was recruited for programming assignments at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) in Newark, New Jersey. He developed a computer program, which replicated the features of the interoffice, inter-organizational paper mail system. He named his program “EMAIL”. Shiva filed an application for copyright in his program and in 1982 the United States Copyright Office issued a Certificate of Registration, No. TXu-111-775, to him on the program. As required by the Regulations of the Copyright Office, he deposited portions of the original source code with the program. Prominent in the code is the name “EMAIL” that he gave to the program. He received a second Certificate of Registration, No. TXu-108-715, for the “EMAIL User’s Manual” he had prepared to accompany the program and that taught unsophisticated user’s how to use EMAIL’s features.

On February 16, 2012, artifacts documenting Shiva’s invention were accepted into the Smithsonian. Subsequently, a substantial controversy arose, unleashed by industry insiders’ false claims about email — claims that are the basis of Raytheon/BBN’s entire multi-billion dollar brand and mascot, who is marketed as the “inventor of email.” Part of the problem is that different people use to the term to mean somewhat different things.

When Shiva was recruited at UMDNJ,  his supervisor, Dr. Leslie P. Michelson challenged him to translate the conventional paper-based interoffice and inter-organizational communication system to an electronic communication system. Systems for communications among widely dispersed computers were in existence at the time, but they were primitive and their usage was largely confined to computer scientists and specialists. Shiva envisioned something simpler, something that everyone, from secretary to CEO, could use to quickly and reliably send and receive digital messages.

He embraced the project and began by performing a thorough evaluation of UMDNJ’s paper-based mail system, the same as that used in offices and organizations around the world. He determined that the essential features of these systems included functions corresponding to “Inbox”, “Outbox”, “Drafts”, “Memo” (“To:”, “From:”, “Date:”, “Subject:”, “Body:”, “Cc:”, “Bcc:”), “Attachments”, “Folders”, “Compose”, “Forward”, “Reply”, “Address Book”, “Groups”, “Return Receipt”, “Sorting”. These capabilities were all to be provided in a software program having a sufficiently simple interface that needed no expertise in computer systems to use efficiently to “Send” and “Receive” mail electronically. It is these features that make his program “email” and that distinguish “email” from prior electronic communications.

Shiva went on to be recognized by the Westinghouse Science Talent Search Honors Group for his invention. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology highlighted his invention as one among four, in the incoming Freshman class of 1,040 students. It was Shiva’s invention, the first in the genealogy of all modern email systems. Today, nearly 2 billion people worldwide use email, rendering it an indispensable form of communication.

“I am humbled to be selected as a TiE Star recipient and to be included among such an esteemed group of true innovators and intrepid entrepreneurs,” said Shiva. “The invention of email evolved from a challenge to solve a real world problem. That work taught me the power of systems thinking, which has stayed with me all my life, through to my current work at MIT in developing a new course called Systems Visualization, and to create CytoSolve, a system which aims to solve another real world problem: reducing the time and costs to produce life-saving drugs.”

“V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai is named a TiE Star recognizing his seminal work in the invention of email, way before its potential could be recognized as a worldwide communication medium.  By developing the first email system, Shiva was intuitively seeing it as a paradigm of communication medium, developing the electronic equivalent of paper-based postal mail system.  Subsequently as an entrepreneur, Shiva continued to leverage this electronic mail medium in mass communication and marketing, fairly early on,” said Shekhar Shastri, Charter Member and TiE Star Program Organizer.  “TiE recognizes that there is no bar to innovation, be it age, location or ethnic background.  TiE fosters entrepreneurship even amongst high school students under its TyE (Tie Young Entrepreneur’s Program); Shiva’s breakthrough work as a high school student serves as an inspiration to our TyE participants.”