Carnegie Mellon's Luis von AhnTo Receive Grace Hopper Award

BY Byron Spice - Thu, 2012-04-26 10:04  Printer-friendly version

Recognizes Outstanding Young Computer Professional of the Year

PITTSBURGH—The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) will honor Luis von Ahn, the A. Nico Habermann Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University, with its Grace Murray Hopper Award for his work enabling humans and computers to work together to solve problems that neither humans nor computers could solve alone.

The Google-sponsored award, which includes a $35,000 prize, recognizes the outstanding young computer professional of the year. He will receive the award at the ACM Awards Banquet June 16 in San Francisco.

Von Ahn pioneered methods he originally called "human computation" but now are known as crowdsourcing. For instance, he created Games with a Purpose, which harness human gameplay to tackle challenging problems beyond the current capability of computers, such as image recognition.

He and his colleagues at Carnegie Mellon famously created online puzzles called CAPTCHAs (Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart), which are now the world's most ubiquitous computer security program. The puzzles consist of distorted text that remains readable by humans, but cannot be parsed by computers. They prevent spam and other online abuses by keeping rogue computer programs from accessing websites, even if they sometimes irritate humans.

Von Ahn subsequently developed a variation, called reCAPTCHA, that uses text from old books and periodicals; people who solve the puzzles simultaneously help digitize old texts that pre-date the computer era. His latest project, Duolingo, now in limited beta testing, will help people learn foreign languages while simultaneously translating text on the Web.

"Professor von Ahn's breakthrough research has changed the game for how we use computers," said ACM President Alain Chesnais. "His innovations impact our personal usage of computing devices and make commercial applications of computing more secure. His potential for further altering how we work and play in the digital age seems boundless."

Von Ahn, 33, earned his doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 2005 and joined the faculty of its Computer Science Department in 2006. He has received numerous awards, including 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. He currently holds the Habermann development chair in computer science, which is awarded every three years to a junior faculty member of unusual promise in Carnegie Mellon's School of Computer Science.

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