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National Science Foundation


Voices From the Future: Luis von Ahn

"HUMAN COMPUTATION." Luis von Ahn discussed his work in the new area of computer science called "Human Computation," which harnesses the combined computational power of humans and computers to solve large-scale problems, in this presentation for the "Voices From the Future" distinguished lecture series, Aug. 26, 2010.


Luis von Ahn
Assistant Professor, Computer Science Department, Carnegie Mellon University

Luis von Ahn works in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie Mellon University. His current research interests include encouraging people to do work for free, as well as catching and thwarting cheaters in online environments.

He is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Packard Fellowship, a Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship and a Sloan Research Fellowship. von Ahn has been named one of the "50 Best Minds in Science" by Discover magazine, one of the "100 Most Creative People in Business of 2010" by Fast Company magazine, one of the "Brilliant 10" scientists of 2006 by Popular Science magazine, one of the 50 most influential people in technology by Silicon.com, and one of the "Top Innovators in the Arts and Sciences" by Smithsonian Magazine.

von Ahn is working on a new area of computer science called "Human Computation," which harnesses the combined computational power of humans and computers to solve large-scale problems. Some call this "crowdsourcing."

You've seen his work: the images of squiggly characters on the Web that you have to type to obtain free email accounts, purchase tickets, etc. These "CAPTCHAs" prevent bots from abusing online services.

His new reCAPTCHA project channels this effort into a dual purpose: transcribing books. To date, over 400 million people--6 percent of humanity!--have helped digitize at least one word through reCAPTCHA, making it perhaps the largest example of massive collaboration.

von Ahn has also developed a number of "Games With A Purpose," or "GWAPs." These compelling games--some people play more than 40 hours per week--collect valuable information for training computer algorithms as a side effect of game play.

von Ahn received his master's degree and doctorate in computer science from Carnegie Mellon University in 2003 and 2005 respectively, and his bachelor's degree in mathematics from Duke University in 2000.

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