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Luis von Ahn        

Founder and CEO of reCAPTCHA and Duolingo

Dr. Luis von Ahn is the CEO and co-founder of Duolingo. A MacArthur Fellow and co-inventor of CAPTCHAs, Luis has been named one of the 10 Most Brilliant Scientists by Popular Science Magazine and one of the 100 Most Innovative People in Business by Fast Company Magazine.

As a professor, his research includes CAPTCHAs and human computation, and has earned him international recognition and numerous honors. Von Ahn's early research was in the field of cryptography. With Nicholas J. Hopper and John Langford, he was the first to provide rigorous definitions of steganography and to prove that private-key steganography is possible.

In 2000, he did early pioneering work with Manuel Blum on CAPTCHAs, computer-generated tests that humans are routinely able to pass but that computers have not yet mastered.These devices are used by web sites to prevent automated programs, or bots, from perpetrating large-scale abuse, such as automatically registering for large numbers of accounts or purchasing huge number of tickets for resale by scalpers. CAPTCHAs brought von Ahn his first widespread fame among the general public due to its coverage in The New York Times, USA Today, Discovery Channel, NOVA scienceNOW, and other mainstream outlets.

Luis von Ahn grew up in Guatemala City. He attended the American School of Guatemala and graduated from it in 1996. He received a B.S. in mathematics from Duke University in 2000. He obtained a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University in 2005 under the supervision of professor Manuel Blum, who is well known for advising some of the most prominent researchers in the field of computer science. In 2011, he was awarded the A. Nico Habermann development chair in computer science, which is awarded every three years to a junior faculty member of unusual promise in the School of Computer Science.

Von Ahn's Ph.D. thesis, completed in 2005, was the first publication to use the term "human computation" that he had coined for methods that combine human brainpower with computers to solve problems that neither could solve alone. Von Ahn's Ph.D. thesis is also the first work on Games With A Purpose, or GWAPs, which are games played by humans that produce useful computation as a side-effect. The most famous example is the ESP Game, an online game in which two randomly paired people are simultaneously shown the same picture, with no way to communicate. Each then lists a number of words or phrases that describe the picture within a time limit, and are rewarded with points for a match. This match turns out to be an accurate description of the picture, and can be successfully used in a database for more accurate image search technology. The ESP Game was licensed by Google in the form of the Google Image Labeler, and is used to improve the accuracy of the Google Image Search. Von Ahn's games brought him further coverage in the mainstream media. His thesis won the Best Doctoral Dissertation Award from Carnegie Mellon University's School of Computer Science.

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