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Before becoming an entrepreneur, Luis von Ahn already had a successful career and international fame. From a young age, the innovative ideas of this Guatemalan caught the attention of the world. In 2000, von Ahn was the pioneer of the CAPTCHAs, a computer-generated test that humans can pass, but not computers, to verify that the user is a human.
In 2005, von Ahn presented his doctoral thesis, where he coined the term “human computing.” In this way, he referred to the methods that combine the capabilities of the human brain with computers to solve problems that neither can do separately. This work was also the first work of “Games with a purpose (GWAP), where two humans play while they make useful computations as a side effect. Google has used this type of videogames to improve the database of images.
In 2006 Luis von Ahn joined as an academic at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer. In 2007, von Ahn improved the invention that had given him fame in computer science. He discovered that humans lost ten seconds each time they typed a CAPTCHA, while two hundred million CAPTCHAs were entered per minute. He realized how much time the world was wasted due to his invention. He wondered how the Internet could take advantage of the effort of more than a million people around the world.
In this way, Luis von Ahn thought that people could help digitize old books by entering the CAPTCHAS. On average, robots are unable to identify 30% of the text in books that are more than 50 years old. CAPTCHA became a collective utility, renamed as ReCAPTCHA. Google loved the idea and paid several million for it.
After the success of ReCAPTCHA, the Guatemalan scientist had another problem in mind. He was thinking about how the Internet could help make ten million people collaborate to translate the Internet for free in the ten most spoken languages in the world? This idea was the underlying idea in Duolingo, which Luis von Ahn founded in 2014. Von Ahn took advantage of people’s interest in learning other languages so that, at the same time, they contribute to the translation of the web.
Luis von Ahn’s motivation for Duolingo is that all people have access to quality education without paying. To maintain the template that develops the application, Luis von Ahn offers translations for companies made collectively through the app, while people learn.
Luis von Ahn has received prestigious scholarships such as the MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation Fellowship in 2009, the Sloan Fellowship in 2009, and the Microsoft New Faculty Fellowship in 2007. Also, he received the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers in 2012. He has also been named one of the best 50 Brains in Science by Discovery as one of the 50 Most Influential People in Technology, the MIT Technology Review TR35: Young Innovator Under 35, and among the 100 Most Innovative People in Business by Fast Company.