Luis von Ahn


A Pioneer in Cybersecurity and Language

  • Luis von Ahn, a Guatemalan entrepreneur and consulting professor in Carnegie Mellon’s computer science department, is recognized for his groundbreaking work on “human computation.”  In 2006, he was awarded a prestigious MacArthur “Genius Grant.”
  • Von Ahn is best known for his work on the CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA cyber-security system and for co-founding Duolingo. CAPTCHA – “Completely Automated Public Turing tests to tell Computers and Humans Apart” – is a response-based test intended to prevent spambots from penetrating computer systems by displaying a distorted image of a word that is decipherable for humans but not computers. Von Ahn spearheaded the development of reCAPTCHA, which capitalized the time spent by users verifying CAPTCHAs to accomplish a laudable goal: digitizing millions of books.
  • After developing reCAPTCHA, von Ahn turned his attention to developing a language-learning platform. Duolingo, which von Ahn co-founded with his then-graduate student Severin Hacker, now offers over 100 different language courses covering dozens of languages for users all over the world. 

“The question that motivates my research is, if we can put a man on the Moon with 100,000 [people], what can we do with 100 million?”

Building a Trusted Future

  • CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, which von Ahn launched in 2007, has protected countless users and their data from malicious cyber-attacks.  
  • Through reCAPTCHA, users helped digitize the entire archives of the New York Times and countless other libraries. 
  • Duolingo boasts nearly 50 million users and is regarded as one of the world’s best methods of learning languages. Available on the Apple App Store and Google Pay store, this program is employed in classrooms around the world with courses teaching over 40 unique languages.