PECASEIs Highest U.S. Honor for Young Research Scientists
PITTSBURGH—U.S. President Barack Obama today named Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Luis von Ahn asa recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists andEngineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States governmenton science and engineering professionals in the early stages of theirindependent research careers.
Von Ahn, 33, is the A. NicoHabermann Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. He wasone of 96 PECASE recipients announced by the White House and was one of 20recipients nominated by the National Science Foundation. The PECASE programrecognizes scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, showexceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge.
Another CMU faculty member,John Kitchin, associate professor of chemical engineering, also is a PECASErecipient. Kitchin was nominated for the award by the Department of Energy'sOffice of Fossil Energy.
"Discoveries in science andtechnology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people."President Obama said. "The impressive accomplishments of today's awardeesso early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead."
VonAhn was cited "for innovative research in human computation applied to complextasks that advance the field of machine translation while simultaneouslyhelping people learn a second language, and for outstanding teaching andmentoring as well as successful efforts to translate scientific discovery intobeneficial commercial products."
Hisresearch enables humans and computers to work together to solve problems thatneither humans nor computers could solve alone. He launched his most recentinnovation, Duolingo.com, just last month.The free website, which he created with Severin Hacker, a Ph.D. student incomputer science at CMU, teaches users a foreign language; as those users practicetheir new skills, they are translating online texts and thus making the Webaccessible to more people worldwide. The site features computer tools thatenable these foreign language learners to translate text as well as aprofessional.
"Luisvon Ahn has had a string of spectacular successes in developing computer-basedsystems that combine the efforts of many (even hundreds of millions) people todo useful work, ranging from digitizing books to translating Web pages," saidRandal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science. "We arevery proud of his accomplishments and the recognition he is receiving via thePECASE award."
In 2007, von Ahn used hiscrowdsourcing approach to create the online puzzles known as reCAPTCHAs, which reduce spam andprotect websites from automated, malicious programs. When people solve thepuzzles, they simultaneously digitize words from pre-computer-age books andperiodicals. So far, more than a billion Internet users have solved reCAPTCHApuzzles and millions of books have been made suitable for search and forreading on any digital device.
He also created Games with a Purpose, which harness humangameplay to tackle challenging problems beyond the current capability ofcomputers, such as image recognition.
VonAhn, earned his doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 2005and joined the faculty of its ComputerScience Department in 2006. He currently holds the Habermann DevelopmentChair in Computer Science, which is awarded every threeyears to a junior faculty member of unusual promise in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science.
He has received numerousawards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, a Packard Fellowship andSloan Research Fellowship in 2009, and the Association for ComputingMachinery's Grace MurrayHopper Award earlier this year. Last year, Spanish Foreign Policy magazinenamed him the most influential new thought leader of Latin America and Spain.
Vincent Conitzer of Duke University, who earned his PhD in computer science at CMU in 2006, and Curtis Huttenhower of Harvard University, who received a master's degree in language technologies in 2003, also were recipients of PECASE honors.
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