I have to admit that I had never heard of V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai prior to meeting him recently in Boston just prior to the video interview below. But he and his PR firm told me he had invented e-mail – with the proof being in-part a copyright from 1982 relating to electronic mail. He spent a few years building this email system which he says were more or less the evolution of text messaging systems which existed at the time.
Specifically V.A. Ayyadurai says his invention was related to the To, From, CC, Subject and Date.
In my research I found a story from Time Magazine proclaiming he was the inventor of email and I also read a copy of the copyright. So everything looked credible.
V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai discusses the specifics relating to his invention of e-mail as well as how the US Postal Service can leverage its brand to increase its sales and remain solvent
To further reinforce this credibility, he is a lecturer at the Biological Engineering School of MIT.
But I must admit, it was a bit suspicious – only because I have been in tech my whole life – and in 1982 I too was a programmer on a UNIX system made by a company called Zilog.
I wondered why I hadn't heard of him as the inventor of email sooner.
Speaking of suspicion, Mary Jander at Internet Evolution penned a piece today which shines a spotlight on V.A. Ayyadurai – specifically on a wave of claims that email existed in various forms in the 60s and 70s.
Jander’s article is inconclusive but Ayyadurai's Wikipedia entry is interesting because it begins with something I have never seen on the site:
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The above most certainly has to do with a section titled Email Claims which begins as follows (bold added my me):
Ayyadurai falsely claims to have "invented" email despite numerous previous inventors and users that are well documented. While a high school student at Livingston High School (New Jersey), he implemented an email system for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey. Email had been previously sent on many other computers and networks such as CTSS, AUTODIN, PLATO and the ARPANet. In 1981, a year in which every Unix system included networked email, Ayyadurai's short paper on his software received an award from the Westinghouse Science Talent Search. In 1982, he copyrighted his software, which was called “EMAIL”, but he did not copyright the word "EMAIL" because copyrights do not apply to single words.
So the jury seems out but the above video shot on December 14, 2011 should certainly shed some insight on what he believes. Perhaps a body language expert will be able to analyze the discussion and let us know more.
Regardless, he seems to be a brilliant man and based upon this interview which delves into areas like how to fix the Post Office, you can see he continues to think big and attempts to tackle some huge challenges.