Shiva Ayyadurai

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VA Shiva Ayyadurai
Born (1963-12-02) 2 December 1963 (age 50)
Residence United States
Citizenship United States
Nationality Indian American
Fields systems biology, computer science, scientific visualization, traditional medicines
Alma mater Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Doctoral advisor C. Forbes Dewey, Jr.
Other academic advisors Noam Chomsky, Robert S. Langer
Known for Electronic mail technologies, integrative medicine

VA Shiva Ayyadurai (born 2 December 1963)[1] is an American scientist of Indian Origin, inventor and entrepreneur.[2]

As a high school student in 1978, he developed a full-scale emulation of the interoffice mail system, which he called "EMAIL" and copyrighted in 1982.[3][4] That name's resemblance to the generic term "email" and the claims he later made for the program have led to controversy over Ayyadurai's place in the history of computer technology.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14] In 2012, he launched Systems Health, an educational program for medical doctors offered through the Chopra Center which integrates concepts from holistic medicine with systems science and systems biology.[15]

Early life and education[edit]

VA Shiva Ayyadurai was born on the 2nd of December, 1963 to a Tamil Family in Bombay, India.[2] At the age of seven, he left with his family to live in the United States.[16] At 14, he attended a special summer program at the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences of New York University (NYU) to study computer programming, and later went on to graduate from Livingston High School in Livingston, New Jersey.[4] While attending high school, he also worked at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) as a research fellow.[17] His undergraduate degree from MIT was in electrical engineering and computer science; he took a master's degree in visual studies from the MIT Media Laboratory on scientific visualization; concurrently, he completed another master’s degree in mechanical engineering, also from MIT; and in 2007, he obtained a Ph.D. in biological engineering from MIT in systems biology, with his thesis focusing on modeling the whole cell by integrating molecular pathway models.[18][19][20] In 2008, he was awarded a Fulbright U.S. Student Program grant to study the integration of Siddha, India’s oldest system of traditional medicine, with modern systems biology in India.[18]

Systems biology and traditional medicine[edit]

Ayyadurai became interested in healing and traditional medicine at the age of five, as he observed his grandmother heal and support local villagers using Siddha, one of India’s oldest systems of traditional medicine.[15] He received training and initiation in Eastern systems of medicine, yoga, and meditation from leading institutions and teachers such as Paul Pitchford of Heartwood Institute,[21] Swami Satyananda Saraswati of Bihar School of Yoga, Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami of the Himalayan Academy,[22] and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi from the Transcendental Meditation movement.[23]

Ayyadurai was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship in 2007 to return to India to research the linkages between India's systems of traditional medicine and modern systems biology.[24] During 2008 to 2009, he traveled India exploring Siddha, Ayurveda, yoga and Traditional Chinese Medicine. In April 2011, he spoke on the subject at the Bio-IT World Conference & Expo.[25] Ayyadurai presented a 13-part lecture series on traditional medicine and systems biology based on his Fulbright research in conjunction with the MIT Traditional Medicine Society.[26]

Starting in 2013, Systems Health™ was created by VA Shiva Ayyadurai and offered as a gateway course for integrative medicine to medical doctors, and endorsed by Dr. Deepak Chopra and first offered through the Chopra Center.[15] In June 2012, Nature Biotechnology cited Ayyadurai’s work in CytoSolve as an important breakthrough in combinatorial drug development.[27]

Systems Visualization[edit]

VA Shiva introduced the field of systems visualization at the MIT Media Lab HyperStudio Conference held in May 2010, when he presented a workshop on systems visualization titled Collaborative Cave Drawings of Social Interactions: Simple Visualizations of Complex Phenomena.[28] Systems visualization is a new field of visualization which integrates and subsumes existing visualization methodologies and adds to it narrative storytelling, visual metaphors (from the field of advertising) and visual design. It also recognizes the importance of complex systems theory, the interconnections of systems of systems, and the need of knowledge representation through ontologies.[29][30]

Systems visualization provides a viewer of systems visualization the ability to quickly understand the complexity of a system. Unlike other visualization approaches - such as data visualization, information visualization, flow visualization, scientific visualization and network visualization, which focus mainly on data representation - systems visualization seeks to provide new way to visualize complex systems of systems through an integrative approach.

The field of systems visualization quickly gained popularity due to its usefulness in visualizing and communicating complex systems in an understandable way. In fall of 2010, VA Shiva offered a new course at MIT that he called Systems Visualization. The Harvard Graduate School of Design recently established a similar course, Visualizing Systems, being taught by Andrea Hansen.[31]

Ayyadurai's earlier work in scientific visualization at the MIT Media Lab provided the basis of several aspects of systems visualization. In 1988, he created a flow visualization system for visualizing fluid ice bed reactors, along with Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic and Robert S. Langer.[32] In 1989, he was elected chair of the first Scientific Visualization Conference at the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Conference, held in Seattle, WA.[33]

Early online communities[edit]

In 1996, Ayyadurai, then CEO of Millennium Productions, developed as an early artists' online cyber-community. The experience led to his writing of Arts and the Internet, published in 1996 by Allworth Press, New York.[34] This book educated artists on how the internet could be used to sell and promote their art directly. evolved into a nonprofit project of the International Center for Integrative Systems, enabling international small business commerce for local and indigenous artists across developed and developing nations.

In 1997, VA Shiva developed another early online community,[35] This cyber-community provide many features of modern social media, such as threaded discussion forums, chat, restaurant postings, groupon-style coupons, ecommerce, and banner advertising to enable local businesses in Harvard Square to interact with residents, students, and visitors. Learnings from this online community were published in The Internet Publicity Guide by Allworth Press, in 1997.[36] The book provided techniques and methods for small businesses to build their online presence and compete on a level playing field with large corporations.

Email service company[edit]

VA Shiva Ayyadurai is the founder of the email service company EchoMail, Inc.[37] EchoMail's core technology originated from VA Shiva Ayyadurai's invention for classifying inbound email for the U.S. White House, which was seeking a reliable encryption and classification system for President Clinton's email.[38] Three patents were the basis of the EchoMail platform,[39][40][41] a system for automatically categorizing and managing inbound email as well as managing both inbound and outbound email.[42][43] This system was implemented for large companies to make the reading and response of customer service emails faster as well as to support targeted email marketing for companies such as Allstate, Nike, Unilever, and JCPenney.[44][45] All three patents are assigned to General Interactive, Inc.

CSIR India controversy[edit]

In 2009, VA Shiva Ayyadurai was recruited as the First Outstanding Scientist and Technologist of Indian Origin by the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India to establish a new private-public partnership to run Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) Tech, which was tasked with finding new ways to spin off new ventures from CSIR labs. He was appointed as Scientist Level H, an Additional Secretary in the Indian government, reporting to Samir Brahmachari, the Director-General of CSIR.[46]

CSIR, over its nearly 70-year history, had produced 2,500 patents across its 37 labs and nearly 4,500 scientists; however, it had generated less than 200 million dollars of revenue. Ayyadurai developed a strategy for such spin-offs and published the strategy and his positive and negative criticisms of CSIR. After submitting a draft report critical of the agency's leadership and organization, he was fired and given three days to vacate his accommodations.[47] CSIR claims he was dismissed for "unprofessional conduct", while Ayyadurai claims he was dismissed for the critical report he prepared on CSIR’s governance.[16][48][49]

Other top officials – such as Dr. Pushpa Mittra Bhargava, founder director of the CSIR's Hyderabad-based Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) – came out in support of Ayyadurai:

"I have seen many cases of vindictiveness in the CSIR, but this is the worst, ... Ayyadurai's report tells the truth about how the CSIR is being run today. The fact that CSIR administration is impervious to healthy and fair criticism is bound to send the wrong message not only to expatriates but also [to scientists] within the country."[47]

Dr. Bhargava, in his letter, informs the PM “I have gone through Dr. Ayyadurai’s report (CSIR-Tech: Path Forward) and find it to be excellent. In this report he compliments the CSIR on its real accomplishments and suggests how they can be taken forward, but he has also been extremely critical of the functioning of the CSIR including its headquarters and its Director General. I have known CSIR since 1950 and believe all his criticisms are justified”.[50]

In 2012, an independent Indian legal organization did an investigative report on CSIR and CSIR Tech. Though initially "skeptical", they submitted a number of Right to Information Act (RTI) requests that procured documentation substantiating Ayyadurai's claims. The investigative lawyers concluded that "[a]lmost a year after its incorporation, CSIR-Tech has no employees. ... It is soon going to be almost 3 years since the Ayyadurai controversy and CSIR-Tech continues to exist only on paper with no real action taking place on the ground."[50]

VA Shiva has responded to the controversy by publishing Innovation Demands Freedom in Nature (which was later removed at the request of the Indian government),[51] and recently published a website chronicling the experience and demanding that action be taken.[52] In addition, he founded the nonprofit Innovation Corps., which provides grants and infrastructure support to village and inner-city youth to encourage innovation at a grassroots level.[53]

Development of EMAIL, ensuing controversy[edit]

In 1979, as a 14-year-old high school student at Livingston High School in New Jersey, Ayyadurai began his work on an email system for the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey.[17] Based on this work, Ayyadurai won a Westinghouse Science Talent Search award for high school seniors in 1981.[54] In 1982, he copyrighted his software, called “EMAIL”, as well as the program's user documentation. Two years later, he copyrighted "EMS", which included EMAIL and other programs.[4]

A November 2011 Time Techland interview by Doug Aamoth entitled "The Man Who Invented Email" argued that Ayyadurai's program represented the birth of email "as we currently know it". In that interview, Ayyadurai recalled that Les Michelson, the former particle scientist at Brookhaven National Labs who assigned Ayyadurai the project, had the idea of creating an electronic mail system that uses the header conventions of a hardcopy memorandum. Ayyadurai recalled Michelson as saying: “Your job is to convert that into an electronic format. Nobody’s done that before."[7]

In February 2012, the Smithsonian National Museum of American History announced that Ayyadurai had donated "a trove of documents and code" related to EMAIL. The museum cited the program as one of the first to include the now common "subject and body fields, inboxes, outboxes, cc, bcc, attachments, and others. He based these elements directly off of the interoffice mail memos the doctors had been using for years, in hopes of convincing people to actually use the newfangled technology."[55]

Ayyadurai's claims drew editorial clarifications and corrections, as well as criticism from industry observers. In a followup to its acquisition announcement, the Smithsonian stated that it was not claiming that Ayyadurai had invented email, but rather that the materials were historically notable for other reasons related to trends in computer education and the role of computers in medicine.[4] The Washington Post also followed up with a correction on its report of the Smithsonian acquisition:

A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to V.A. Shiva Ayyadurai as the inventor of electronic messaging. This version has been corrected. The previous, online version of this story also incorrectly cited Ayyadurai’s invention as containing, “The lines of code that produced the first ‘bcc,’ ‘cc,’ ‘to’ and ‘from’ fields.” These features were outlined in earlier documentation separate from Ayyadurai’s work. The original headline also erroneously implied that Ayyadurai had been “honored by [the] Smithsonian” as the “inventor of email.” Dr. Ayyadurai was not honored for inventing electronic messaging. The Smithsonian National Museum of American History incorporated the paperwork documenting the creation of his program into their collection. A previous version also incorrectly stated that had Ayyadurai “pursued a patent, it could have significantly stunted the technology’s growth even as it had the potential to make him incredibly wealthy.” At the time, patents were not awarded for the creation of software.[8]

Writing for Gizmodo, Sam Biddle argued that email was developed a decade before EMAIL, beginning with Ray Tomlinson's sending the first text letter between two computers in 1971. Biddle quoted Tomlinson: "[We] had most of the headers needed to deliver the message (to:, cc:, etc.) as well as identifying the sender (from:) and when the message was sent (date:) and what the message was about." Biddle allowed for the possibility that Ayyadurai may have coined the term "EMAIL" and used the header terms without being aware of earlier work, but maintained that the historical record isn't definitive on either point. Biddle wrote that "laying claim to the name of a product that's the generic term for a universal technology gives you acres of weasel room. But creating a type of airplane named AIRPLANE doesn't make you Wilbur Wright."[6]

Writing on the Special Interest Group Computers, Information and Society website, Thomas Haigh, a historian of information technology at the University of Wisconsin, wrote that "Ayyadurai is, to the best of my knowledge, the only person to have claimed for him or herself the title 'inventor of email.'" Haigh argued that while EMAIL was impressive for a teenager's work, it contained no features that were not present on previous electronic mail systems and had no obvious influence on later systems. "The most striking thing about Ayyadurai’s claim to have invented electronic mail is how late it comes. Somehow it took him thirty years to alert the world to [his] greatest achievement." Haigh traced the history of electronic mail to the Compatible Time Sharing System at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as to Tomlinson's SNDMSG program.[12] Another computer historian, Marc Weber, a curator at the Computer History Museum, said that by 1978, "nearly all the features we're familiar with today had appeared on one system or another over the previous dozen years", including emoticons, mailing lists, flame wars, and spam.[56]

David Crocker, a member of the ARPANET research community, believed that the origins of email were not in dispute until this controversy. Writing in the Washington Post on the history of email, he asserted that the technology came from many innovators. "The reports incorrectly credited [EMAIL's] author, a 14-year old in the late 1970s, as the 'inventor' of email, long after it had become an established service on the ARPANET."[57]

VA Shiva Ayyadurai characterized the earlier work of Tomlinson, Tom Van Vleck and others as text messaging, rather than an electronic version of an interoffice mail system.[7][56] Responding to his critics on his personal website,[6][56] Ayyadurai described his program EMAIL as "the first of its kind -- a fully integrated, database-driven, electronic translation of the interoffice paper mail system derived from the ordinary office situation. It provided the electronic equivalents and features of mail receipt and transmission including: the inbox, outbox, drafts, address book, carbon copies, registered mail, ability to forward, broadcast along with a host of other features that users take for granted in Web-based email programs such as Gmail and Hotmail. To the best of my knowledge, I was the first to design, implement, test and deploy these features in an everyday office situation. This was and is email as we know it today." Ayyadurai maintained that EMAIL was the first electronic mail system to integrate an easy-to-use user interface, a word processor, a relational database, and a modular inter-communications protocol "integrated together in one single and holistic platform to ensure high-reliability and user-friendliness network-wide."[13] Leslie P. Michelson, who commissioned Ayyadurai's work, also argued that Ayyadurai created the first email system. EMAIL, Michelson wrote, was not just a program but "the first of its kind, an integrated platform that provided all the recognizable elements of what we call email today...."[58]

One of Ayyadurai's undergraduate professors,[59] Noam Chomsky of MIT's Department of Linguistics and Philosophy, accused Ayyadurai's detractors of displaying "the childish tantrums of industry insiders who now believe that by creating confusion on the case of 'email', they can distract attention from the facts." Chomsky argued that by virtue of the Copyright Act of 1976 – whereby once a work is published, it is protected  – Ayyadurai had coined the term 'email' in 1978. Chomsky maintained that the term was not previously used. Chomsky also argued that the intent of Ayyadurai's work mattered. "By the source code submitted to the US Copyright Office and by the documents provided to the Smithsonian, email's intention and origin was to replicate electronically the interoffice, inter-organizational mail system." By comparison, David Crocker "clearly stated in a report he authored, ' attempt is being made to emulate a full-scale, inter-organizational mail system.'”[14]

After the controversy unfolded, MIT disassociated itself from Ayyadurai's EMAIL Lab and funding was dropped. MIT also revoked Ayyadurai's contract to lecture at the bioengineering department. Ayyadurai did win a contract from the United States Postal Service to continue advising the organization on email management.[56]

United States Postal Service[edit]

In 1997, VA Shiva Ayyadurai met with United States Postal Service (USPS) to convince the USPS to offer a suite of email services for generating new revenues.[56][60][61] They dismissed getting involved with email at that time. In 2011, various media outlets were reporting that the USPS was going out of business.[62][63][64] Following this news, Ayyadurai critiqued the USPS's strategy and restated his thoughts on how technology could generate new revenues and save the USPS.[61] The USPS Office of the Inspector General (USPS-OIG) became responsive to his ideas and hired him to conduct an initial technical workshop in 2012 to hear his ideas.[42][65][66] Ayyadurai organized and served as moderator of the MIT Communications Forum “The Future of the Post Office” on March 15, 2012 with David C. Williams the Inspector General of the USPS.[43][56][67] [68] In April 2012, VA Shiva Ayyadurai was asked to speak at the PostalVision 2020 conference to USPS officials on new directions for the USPS, at which he presented a paper on why the USPS should embrace email.[69][70]

VA Shiva Ayyadurai's research center, the International Center for Integrative Systems (ICIS), was hired by the USPS-OIG to do a detailed analysis on how email and other initiatives could produce new revenues for the USPS.[71] In September 2012, VA Shiva Ayyadurai's International Center for Integrative Systems submitted a report to the USPS-OIG which projected that the USPS could potentially generate over $250 million per year through email servicing.[72]

Scientific publications[edit]

  1. Ayyadurai, V.A.S., (2011) Services-Based Systems Architecture for Modeling the Whole Cell: A Distributed Collaborative Engineering Systems Approach. Communications in Medical and Care Compunetics, Springer Publications. Vol. 1, 115-168.[73]
  2. Ayyadurai, V.A.S., Dewey, Jr., C.F., (2011) CytoSolve: A Scalable Computational Method for Dynamic Integration of Multiple Molecular Pathway Models. Cellular and Molecular Bioengineering. Vol. 4, No. 1.[74]
  3. Ayyadurai, S., (2009) Commentary: Innovation Demands Freedom. Nature India.[51]
  4. Gupta, A., Nagendraprasad, M.V., Liu, A., Wang, P.S., Ayyadurai, S., (1993) An Integrated Architecture for Recognition of Totally Unconstrained Handwritten Numerals. International Journal of Pattern Recognition and Artificial Intelligence. Vol. 7, No. 4, 757-773.[75]
  5. Ayyadurai, S., Novakovic, G.V., Freed, L.E., Langer, R.S., Cooney, C.L., (1988) A workstation for visualization of fluid and particle motion in an enzymatic fluidized bed reactor for blood deheparinization. Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society, 1988. Proceedings of the Annual International Conference of the IEEE. Vol. 3, 1451-1452.[76]


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