A computing legend has died. The inventor of email, Ray Tomlinson, suffered an apparent heart attack on Saturday, according to reports. He was 74 years old.
Tomlinson sent the very first email back in 1971; at the time, he was working in Boston at Bolt, Beranek, and Newman (BBN), a company that was instrumental in the development of a very early version of the internet, called ARPANET. As an employee, he was "looking for problems [ARPANET] could solve," Tomlinson said in a 2012 interview.
Tomlinson, who was inducted into the Internet Hall of Fame in 2012, is best known for rescuing the @ symbol from obscurity and, in the process, shaping the way we talk about being online. He was also a key driver in the development of standards for the "From", "Subject", and date fields found in email messages today. When asked what else he'd liek to be remembered for he laughed, "Oh, I don’t know. I thought the three-way handshake for TCP was pretty cool."
Unfortunately for us, the very first email has been lost to time. As he said in an NPR interview from 2009, they were just random strings of text. "The first e-mail is completely forgettable ... and, therefore, forgotten." Thanks to his invention, Tomlinson won't be.
Without a doubt, Ray Tomlinson was an amazing man with the right talent at the right time and the right combination of commercial and government facilitation. His official biography page on the Internet Hall of Fame website credit's Tomlinson with "fundamentally changing the way people communicate".