If like most people, you also imagine a scientist as a pretty serious, reserved, nerdy and introvert, Prof. Ponnurangam Kumaraguru, popularly called “PK” from IIIT Hyderabad will prove you wrong! Chatty by nature and active on social media, Prof. PK loves the academic life which gives him the freedom to choose the problems he wishes to work on. To entice future generations towards research, he exhibits the perks of academic life on social media platforms under the hashtag #ProfGiri. Recently appointed as an Associate Researcher at the RBCDSAI, Prof. PK’s major interest lies in using AI and other emerging technologies in studying emerging phenomena in society, including (not limited to) fake news, judiciary, code-mixed content, etc.. Let’s get to know him better!
Prof. PK was born and brought up in Chennai. The major turning point in his life came when he joined a company named SlashSupport where he got the opportunity to work on interesting computer science problems and got exposure to expert systems. It was during these days that he got to know about Prof. Rajeev Sangal from IIIT Hyderabad and decided to quit his job and join Prof. Sangal & IIIT Hyderabad as a research scientist. During his stay at IIIT Hyderabad, another turning point came in the form of meeting Prof. Raj Reddy - a Professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). Prof. PK enrolled for PhD at CMU in Fall 2004.
Those were the early years of the 21st century and the Internet and social media platforms were becoming popular. With these social media platforms penetrating the real world, the issues of privacy and cybersecurity has just started to emerge. Prof. PK’s Ph.D. revolved around these issues and he worked on developing anti-phishing systems at CyLab, Security & Privacy Institute at CMU. The research work had applications in the real world and led to the start of a company named Wombat Security Technologies. Though he was an integral part of the company, the industry wasn’t his calling, so he packed his bags and returned to India when he got an opportunity to be a faculty member at IIIT Delhi.
At IIIT Delhi, Prof. PK started research projects in the area of cybersecurity and privacy in his lab which he named Precog (inspired by the movie Minority Report). The social media platforms were gaining popularity in India this time and he felt the need to be on the social media platforms to understand the ecosystem and challenges related to security and privacy such as fake accounts, fake posts, misuse, and fraud better. Over the years, his lab has worked on various research projects which have societal impacts. At Precog, he is carrying out a project in the legal AI domain where he is leveraging AI to assist and hasten the process of legal proceedings and a project in the agriculture extension domain where they are using AI to identify factors that enable the farmers to adopt the agriculture methods as shown in an agriculture extension video. His lab has developed a number of tools such as Saftie, TweetCred, Whatsfarzi, Spotfake, Spotfake+, Factdrill etc. They had also developed a model that can detect if a person is taking a selfie at a dangerous location which may harm him/her. His team also routinely does the analysis of content generated on social media & the Internet during elections (as recent as UP & Punjab elections in 2022) and has also been interested to study the effect of popularity (instant increase in followers on social media) shocks on the user behavior. Recently, he shifted to IIIT Hyderabad and is now working on similar issues in his lab at IIIT Hyderabad.
Apart from a researcher, Prof. PK is also a teacher and mentor and loves this responsibility of getting students excited about his research area. A proud teacher, he likes to post about his student’s achievements on social media. He is also an angel investor and supports the budding startups by funding them. In his free time, Prof. PK likes to play sports (Tennis, Badminton). A book lover, he loves to read all genres and blogs about his favorite parts (like this recent book by Will Smith) of the books.