Luis von Ahn to Open Golisano College Dean’s Lecture Series Oct. 19

CAPTCHA developer to discuss new Web translation and language-learning platform

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Luis von Ahn, developer of the anti-spamming technology CAPTCHA, will present a talk Oct. 19.

Luis von Ahn imagines a world where anyone can use the Internet, regardless of the language they speak. He’s solving this problem using Duolingo, a service that helps people learn new languages for free, while at the same time helping to translate text from the Web.

Von Ahn will present “Duolingo: Learn a Language for Free while Helping to Translate the Web” at 1 p.m. Oct. 19 in Rochester Institute of Technology’s Golisano Hall auditorium. His talk will kick off the 2012–2013 B. Thomas Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences’ Dean’s Lecture Series.

Von Ahn will introduce his new project, Duolingo, which aims to make the Web—which is now split into hundreds of languages and inaccessible to most people in the world—truly “world wide.” While Google Translate is helpful, it isn’t accurate enough for von Ahn. His talk will explain how Duolingo’s free language-learning tools are helping to simultaneously contribute to translating real-world content from the Web.

Von Ahn, an associate professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, is known for developing a new area of computer science that he calls human computation, which aims to build systems that combine the intelligence of humans and computers to solve large-scale problems that neither can solve alone.

He is a developer of the anti-spamming technology CAPTCHA and the founder of reCAPTCHA, which was sold to Google in 2009. CAPTCHAs are the distorted security word puzzles that websites utilize to prove that users are not spammers. Von Ahn realized that he could do something useful with the more than 150,000 hours people spend on CAPTCHAs each day. He paired the need to digitize old books and newspapers with CAPTCHA’s ability to utilize human intelligence. He created reCAPTCHA, which uses humans to unknowingly translate books that computers can’t read, while still protecting the website at the same time.

Von Ahn has been named one of the 50 Best Brains in Science by Discover Magazine, one of Fast Company’s 100 Most Innovative People in Business and included in Technology Review’s TR35: Young Innovators Under 35. He is also the recipient of many honors including a MacArthur Fellowship “genius grant.”

For more information about von Ahn’s talk at RIT, go to