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Noam Chomsky weighs in on Ayyadurai's email invention claim

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MIT Linguist and activist author Noam Chomsky is defending A.V. Shiva Ayyadurai's claim to having invented email.

chomsky (flickr - andrew rusk)
chomsky (flickr - andrew rusk)

Celebrated linguist and radical activist Noam Chomsky is defending his former student V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai’s claim to the invention of email. A February Washington Post story on 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 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 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 Ayyadurai began his work on EMAIL.

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.