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Innovation & Startups

CMU's Luis Von Ahn tackles languages with Duolingo, wins prestigious Google prize


CMU's Luis von Ahn, the wiz behind the ubiquitous computer puzzle reCAPTCHA, was awarded a $35,000 Google-sponsored prize for his work in bridging human and computer understanding.
 
The computer science professor will be honored as the outstanding young computer professional of the year with the Grace Murray Hopper Award by the Association for Computer Machinery (ACM).  
 
Von Ahn, 33, earned his doctorate in computer science at CMU in 2005 and joined the faculty in 2006. He received a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006 and a Packard Fellowship and Sloan Research Fellowship in 2009. Last year, Spanish Foreign Policy magazine named him the most influential new thought leader of Latin America and Spain.
 
His latest venture is a company called Duolingo, In typical von Ahn fashion, the CMU spinoff accomplishes several things at once; it helps people to learn a foreign language and simultaneously translates text while teaching foreign language skills to others. Duolingo is in limited-beta testing.
 
A Spanish user, for example, learns English through the process of translating a newspaper, such as the New York Times, into Spanish, he explains. "It kills two birds at once. The Spanish speaker is helping other people who don't speak English to read the New York Times. The twist is while you are learning a language, you're also translating useful stuff from the web."   
 
Many translation tools don't work well because the task is not one well suited to computers,  he adds. With Duolingo, translations are done by humans and not a computer, which is better.
 
More than 400,000 people are already on the waiting list to use Duolingo.
 
Writer: Deb Smit
Source: Luis von Ahn, Duolingo + CMU
 
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