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CORRECTION TO THIS ARTICLE:
This brief incorrectly titled Shiva Ayyaduri and credits him with the first copyright to email. He is a faculty lecturer. Also, while he holds a copyright from 1982 titled “EMAIL,” Ayyaduri is not the inventor of email, which began in the 1960s.

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Can an MIT professor save the USPS?

With the United States Postal Service (USPS) on the verge of eliminating 35,000 jobs to avoid bankruptcy, government officials are desperately seeking solutions to avert the crisis. MIT might have one. In the coming months, MIT Professor and the holder of the first copyright to “EMAIL,” Shiva Ayyadurai will be working on a proposal that will investigate how the USPS could save thousands of jobs by entering the email management industry .

According to Ayyadurai, large companies lack the email infrastructure to efficiently handle the overload of messages coming into the company every day. As a result, important messages are not being correctly sorted and delivered to the proper recipients. Sorting between important and junk email is a difficult problem that requires “human eyes”; even the most intelligent algorithms fail to sort efficiently.

Ayyadurai believes the USPS can provide a service that will help companies become more efficient at managing their own email. Under his plan, the USPS can retrain workers it intends to lay off in order to support the proposed system and generate enough revenue to avoid bankruptcy. Though some email management systems outsource work to countries like India, Ayyadurai argues that the USPS is a trusted and reliable brand, and can do a better job.

Last September, FastCompany, an entrepreneurship and technology magazine, interviewed Ayyadurai about his ideas on the future of the USPS. The article was picked up by USPS senior officials, who have since contacted Ayyadurai about his ideas. Ayyadurai has firsthand experience in the email management business. In 1996, Ayyadurai started a company called EchoMail, which uses an algorithm to intelligently organize email for businesses. However, Ayyadurai discovered that even an intelligent algorithm could not sort email as efficiently as an actual human. On March 13, Ayyadurai will speak about the future of the postal service for the MIT Communications Forum.

—Robert McQueen