Controversial inventor Ayyadurai bats for Indian medicine

  • Manu P Toms, Hindustan Times, Bangalore
  • Updated: Sep 12, 2014 20:09 IST

He invented e-mail – or says he did so on the basis of a copyright. He took on India’s scientific establishment in an ugly row over innovation. He married a Hollywood activist-actress this month.

But Indian American scientist Shiva Ayyadurai’s eyes are now on proving that India’s traditional medicinial systems are rooted in deep science. He cites his grandmother Chinnathai, a farmer and a healer, as an inspiration for his quest, describing the controversial invention of electronic mail as a “small distraction”.

“For me, discovering the scientific foundation of Ayurveda and Siddha, are far bigger than my invention of e-mail,” 50-year-old Ayyadurai, educated at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), told HT over phone from New York. “I invented email, as a side project. My real love was always medical research. In this sense, e-mail was a distraction,” he said.

Mumbai-born Ayyadurai moved to the US with his parents when he was seven, and has his roots in a village near Rajapalayam in Tamil Nadu. In 1978, when he was 14, he began his work on creating an interoffice digital mail system with an inbox, outbox, memo, folders and attachments, for Medical & Dentist University, New
Jersey. He named it e-mail and bagged the patent for it in 1981.

The respected technology site Gizmodo said in a 2012 article that electronic messaging was done ofn ARPANET, the US defence computer network, in 1971, when he was barely eight, but acknowledges that he may have formally invented the term “EMAIL” rather than the process.

Ayyadurai’s research paper, “The Control Systems Engineering Foundation of Traditional Indian Medicine: The Rosetta Stone for Siddha and Ayurveda” was published in the International Journal of Systems Engineering (IJSSE) on September 7, four hours after his marriage to actress Fran Drescher, 56.

Ayyadurai, who has four degrees from MIT, faces a controversial campaign over the e-mail invention claim. At the same time, he is backed by renowned people including Noam Chomsky.

His detractors say that what Ayyadurai ‘invented’ had already existed by 1978. Ayyadurai dismisses them, saying that what pre-existed his inventions were ‘mere text messaging systems’.

His current work has attracted praise.

“This paper conclusively ends the age-old debate on whether Ayurveda and Siddha have scientific integrity,” Rudolph Tanzi, professor of neurology at Harvard University, is quoted in a press release sent out by Ayyadurai’s office.

Ayyadurai had returned to India in 2009 to help technological innovation, but he walked out angrily out of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) amid a row with the government, accusing CSIR of authoritarian style while they said he wanted unreasonable compensation.

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