Ray Tomlinson, Inventor of Modern Email, Dies at Age 74

Ray Tomlinson, Inventor of Modern Email, Dies at Age 74

Raymond Tomlinson, the inventor of modern email and a technological leader, has died, his employer said Sunday.

Tomlinson died Saturday, the Raytheon Co. said; the details were not immediately available.

Email existed in a limited capacity before Tomlinson in that electronic messages could be shared amid multiple people within a limited framework. But until his invention in 1971 of the first network person-to-person email, there was no way to send something to a specific person at a specific address.

Tomlinson wrote and sent the first email on the ARPANET system, a computer network that was created for the US government that is considered a precursor to the Internet. Tomlinson also contributed to the network’s development, among numerous other pioneering technologies in the programming world.

At the time, few people had personal computers. The popularity of personal email wouldn’t take off until years later and would ultimately become an integral part of modern life.

“It wasn’t an assignment at all, he was just fooling around; he was looking for something to do with ARPANET,” Raytheon spokeswoman Joyce Kuzman said.

The first email was sent between two machines that were side-by-side. Tomlinson said in a company interview that the test messages were “entirely forgettable and I have, therefore, forgotten them.” But when he was satisfied that the program seemed to work, he announced it via his own invention by sending a message to co-workers explaining how to use it.

“I’m often asked ‘Did I know what I was doing?” Tomlinson said in his speech when he was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame. “The answer is: Yeah I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever about what the ultimate impact would be.”

Tomlinson is the one who chose the “@” symbol to connect the username with the destination address and it has now become a cultural icon.

“It is a symbol that probably would have gone away if not for email,” Kuzman said.

The symbol has become so important in modern culture that MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design added the symbol into its collection in 2010, with credits to Tomlinson.

Tomlinson held electrical engineering degrees from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. And despite being a famed programmer and recipient of numerous awards and accolades, co-workers described as humble and modest.

“People just loved to work with him,” Kuzman said. “He was so patient and generous with his time … He was just a really nice, down-to-earth, good guy.”

Harry Forsdick, who commuted for 15 years with Tomlinson, said he was the best programmer at the company and many younger engineers aspired to be like him. He described him as a “nerdy guy from MIT” who didn’t thrive on the glory that came later in his career but that it was well-deserved.

“Like many inventors, the invention for which he is known, email, probably represents less of his talent and imagination than many other ideas and projects he worked on over his career,” Forsdick said.

Tomlinson was hired by Bolt Beranek and Newman, known as BBN, in 1967. It was later acquired by Raytheon Co., where he still worked at the time of his death, as a principal scientist.

He lived in Lincoln, Massachusetts, where he raised miniature sheep with his partner. Attempts to contact his family were unsuccessful.

While more general email protocols were later developed and adopted, Tomlinson’s contributions were never forgotten.

“He was pretty philosophical about it all,” Kuzman said. “And was surprisingly not addicted to email.”

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Tags: Email, Internet, Ray Tomlinson
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Bill Gates Says ‘Will Look Into’ Age of Empires Sequel

Bill Gates Says 'Will Look Into' Age of Empires Sequel

Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and one half of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, recently took to user-curated social news website Reddit to answer any questions people had in what he said was his fourth Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything).

Gates dealt in a lot of topics, from bio-terrorism to his life at Harvard to what he prefers between sushi and Thai food. A user by the name of le-click took the opportunity to ask him about the possibility of a sequel for popular real-time strategy game Age of Empires, which has been published by Microsoft since its inception.

“Mr. Gates, can we please have another Age of Empires? Not sure if this is your department, but I figured I’d ask since you were here…

Thanks!”

Fortunately for all video gamers, Gates obliged and cheekily replied:

“I will look into this. How many empires do you need?”

Age of Empires remains one of the most successful RTS franchises in video gaming history. It has been responsible for a lot of innovation in the genre, and also spawned a critically acclaimed and popular spin-off in Age of Mythology, which transported the game’s elements into the Greek, Egyptian, and Nordic mythical stories.

AOE2_wallpaper_official.jpgThe 1999 Age of Empires II: The Age of Kings is generally heralded as the series’ finest entry, and following the failure of Age of Empires III, developer Ensemble Studios has focused on improving the second chapter, by way of giving it a HD upgrade in 2013, and adding a new civilisation and campaign in following years.

Are you interested in a new Age of Empires game? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below or tweet to us @Gadgets360 with #AoE.

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