Dr. Shiva's MIT Homecoming

11/25/23 • MIT Students for Open Inquiry

The inventor of email and serial entrepreneur enlightens MITers.

On Tuesday, Dr. Shiva Ayyadurai delivered his talk “An Inventor’s Journey.” Dr. Shiva has 4 degrees from MIT and invented email, and his main initiative is the Truth Freedom Health platform at vashiva.com. He is also running for president as an Independent candidate.

Dr. Shiva was born in India, moving to New Jersey and finishing high school at 14. He was challenged to improve the inter-office mail system, and “converted that entire system to the electronic system, and named that system EMAIL. Not only did I create all that stuff in FORTRAN, a language with 8K of memory, so I had to write all the memory-swapping, all that stuff, which every software engineer today takes for granted.”

After email, Dr. Shiva developed EchoMail, the world’s first AI-based email classification system. His clients included “AT&T, Nike, Citigroup”, and he “grew that company to $250 million with no VC funding.” For this endeavor, dozens of news outlets, from The Boston Globe to The Wall Street Journal, covered his story and called Dr. Shiva “Dr. Email”.

His ventures moved from technology to biology when he noted that many of the terms in Western control systems engineering, such as “Input”, “Output”, and “Goal”, had a similar function in traditional Indian systems of health—Siddha and Ayurveda—where they were known as “Karma”, “Karma-Phal”, and “Sankalpa.” This conversion enabled Dr. Shiva to approach biology from a systems science perspective, and he created CytoSolve to deliver personalized medicine.

In 2009, Dr. Shiva was invited by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to “help [India] innovate” and “become a deputy-secretary in the Indian government, the highest-level scientist”. He “put forward an entire plan on how India can unleash innovation”, but “the guys that hired me really didn’t want me to do anything. They gave me a huge mansion in Delhi, three cars...everything you could imagine, and I’m two levels below the Prime Minister. So [they] thought I would just sit there and make them look good.” Instead, Dr. Shiva “wrote a report exposing all the corruption I had seen”, and was promptly fired and targeted by the mafia, returning to MIT.

Back at the university he'd called home for so many years, in the early 2010s, Dr. Shiva taught a course at MIT, “Systems Biology and Traditional Medicine”, which was “one of the most popular lecture series.” He sued Gawker in 2015, winning $750,000 for defamation over his invention of email. Noting that very few people supported him in the run-up to the lawsuit, but many issued statements afterwards confirming him as the inventor of email, Dr. Shiva distinguished between true allies and opportunists. Anyone can say good things, but it’s when they say them that matters.

Dr. Shiva closed with a charge to the students: “MIT does not define you.” Instead, “innovation can happen at any time, by anyone, solving real-world problems – not some nerd with an MIT degree.”

See Dr. Shiva’s full talk here!