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Vasanthan Ramakrishnan: A Chicago Tech Maverick Forging a Safer Future for Children

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Aristotle once said, “The roots of education are bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” This ancient wisdom resonates profoundly in the life and work of Vasanthan Ramakrishnan, a pioneer in the realm of child safety and artificial intelligence (AI). Born into a middle-class family in Madurai, India, Vasanthan Ramakrishnan grew up with an appreciation for education and compassion deeply rooted in him by his educator parents. His journey from a curious boy questioning societal norms to a global change-maker is nothing short of inspiring. Today, as a tech maverick and a staunch child safety advocate residing in Chicago, Ramakrishnan is shaping a future where children can navigate the digital world without fear, a testament to the fruit of his educational roots.

Central to Ramakrishnan’s achievements are his key roles at the Center for Innovation in Emerging Technologies (CIET) and the Child Rights Institute (CRI), institutions that embody his commitment to harness technology for the welfare of children. They are independent subsidiaries of his larger international nonprofit organization – Feminist Pen Foundation, which is a 5X award winning human rights nonprofit focused on building a global advocacy for human rights at some of the world’s most oppressed populations while making small leaps towards closing the global gender parity gap. After winning 12 awards for his work in human rights, he is building Feminist Pen in 4 countries – USA, Chicago, Netherlands and Dubai with his 20-member team to reach over 500,000+ people from 17 countries. With an unerring focus on children’s rights and safety, Ramakrishnan has managed to bring his innovative ideas to life in the form of technological solutions that shield children from the adversities of the online world.

Leading this roster of innovations is CySafe, a ground-breaking AI-based tool designed to protect children from the pervasive threat of cyberbullying. CySafe signifies a leap forward in child safety technology, and its birth is interwoven with Ramakrishnan’s journey. Recognizing the shortcomings of existing cyberbullying detection systems—namely their inability to detect complex language features such as slang, multilingualism, and aesopian phrases—Ramakrishnan felt the need for a more nuanced approach.

His vision became reality with CySafe, the world’s first AI-based plug-in tool that employs a hybrid RNN-LSTM neural network for detecting, anticipating, and classifying cyberbullying incidents. What sets CySafe apart from conventional tools is its ability to recognize patterns across natural language, slang terms, and aesopian phrases, unique to select groups or communities, in addition to distinguishing false positives. Designed to work across languages, browsers, and devices, CySafe offers an extensive safety net that protects children from cyberbullying, irrespective of their location or language. 

Unlike the existing content moderation tools that are programmed to work within restrictive community guidelines and primarily focus on preventing security escalations, CySafe digs deeper. It uncovers the root cause of bugs or loopholes that allow cyberbullies to remain hidden for months or even years, causing mental and physical harm to children and teenagers. Thus, CySafe stands as a testament to Ramakrishnan’s commitment to create a safer and inclusive digital space for children.

This deep commitment to child safety has earned Ramakrishnan two honorary doctorates from prestigious Indian educational institutions. These honors not only acknowledge his profound technological acumen but also appreciate his relentless efforts to align technology with social needs. But Ramakrishnan’s reach extends far beyond child safety. His work in promoting gender equality, inclusivity, and social justice has garnered him two international awards and ten national awards, marking his prominence in the non-profit sphere.

It is rare to find a blend of technology and social commitment as potent as that embodied by Ramakrishnan. His journey illuminates the path for future innovators and advocates, emphasizing that technology, when coupled with empathy and a deep understanding of societal needs, can become a powerful tool for change.

However, for Ramakrishnan, his journey is far from over. Each recognition, each accolade, each child saved from the perils of cyberbullying fuels his resolve to continue his mission. His philosophy reflects his vision of a world where technology is a bridge connecting individuals, not a barrier. His steadfast belief is that the world of technology is an open book, with no full stops, only commas— an endless pursuit of innovation.

As we witness the remarkable journey of Vasanthan Ramakrishnan, we are reminded of the transformative power of technology guided by empathy. He stands as a beacon, inspiring others to harness the potential of technology to create a more inclusive, safer, and equitable society. In doing so, he paints a promising picture of the future—one where the digital world is not a battlefield for children, but a playground. A world where technology serves as a guardian, not a threat. In essence, a world that honors the right of every child to a safe and secure childhood.

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