Ray Tomlinson, the man who invented email and changed the world as we know it, has died aged 74. Tomlinson was honoured in the Internet Hall of Fame for his work, an award he accepted in 2012 with a speech admitting that he had no idea how big his invention would become.
“I’m often asked: did I know what I was doing? And the answer is, yes, I knew exactly what I was doing. I just had no notion whatsoever of the ultimate impact. What I was doing was providing a way for people to communicate with other people,” he said.
The invention came about when Tomlinson looked for something useful to do with Arpanet. He conducted much of his work as an unsanctioned side-project.
His lasting legacy is the @ or ‘at’ symbol, which was fast becoming an archaic leftover from the days of pre-computer book-keeping. Tomlinson is said to have chosen it because it was doing nothing and its original meaning of ‘at the rate of’ was transferrable to ‘at the server’.
The symbol has gone on to be used in a wide variety of contexts from programming to instant messaging and, most notably outside email, as a way to refer to people on Twitter, a feature often used on other sites too.
Tomlinson worked at Raytheon in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He received a variety of plaudits for his work, including a George R Stibitz Computer Pioneer Award from the American Computer Museum, and an Eduard-Rhein Cultural Award, to name but two.
In later years, he lived in Lincoln where he raised miniature sheep. So far his family has released no statement, and no cause of death has been announced.
Gmail, biggest email service in the world, gave its own tribute via Twitter
The @ sign, which still has no official single word for it, will forever act as a lasting memory to his subtle but vast influence on the world. Perhaps it’s time it was named a ‘Ray’ sign.