Carnegie Mellon Computer Scientist Luis von Ahn
Will Receive Presidential Research Award
Is Highest U.S. Honor for Young Research Scientists
PITTSBURGH—U.S. President Barack
Obama today named Carnegie Mellon University computer scientist Luis von Ahn as
a recipient of the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and
Engineers (PECASE), the highest honor bestowed by the United States government
on science and engineering professionals in the early stages of their
independent research careers.
Von Ahn, 33, is the A. Nico
Habermann Associate Professor of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. He was
one of 96 PECASE recipients announced by the White House and was one of 20
recipients nominated by the National Science Foundation. The PECASE program
recognizes scientists and engineers who, early in their careers, show
exceptional potential for leadership at the frontiers of knowledge.
Another CMU faculty member,
John Kitchin, associate professor of chemical engineering, also is a PECASE
recipient. Kitchin was nominated for the award by the Department of Energy’s
Office of Fossil Energy.
“Discoveries in science and
technology not only strengthen our economy, they inspire us as a people.”
President Obama said. “The impressive accomplishments of today’s awardees
so early in their careers promise even greater advances in the years ahead.”
Ahn was cited “for innovative research in human computation applied to complex
tasks that advance the field of machine translation while simultaneously
helping people learn a second language, and for outstanding teaching and
mentoring as well as successful efforts to translate scientific discovery into
beneficial commercial products.”
research enables humans and computers to work together to solve problems that
neither humans nor computers could solve alone. He launched his most recent
innovation, Duolingo.com, just last month.
The free website, which he created with Severin Hacker, a Ph.D. student in
computer science at CMU, teaches users a foreign language; as those users practice
their new skills, they are translating online texts and thus making the Web
accessible to more people worldwide. The site features computer tools that
enable these foreign language learners to translate text as well as a
von Ahn has had a string of spectacular successes in developing computer-based
systems that combine the efforts of many (even hundreds of millions) people to
do useful work, ranging from digitizing books to translating Web pages,” said
Randal E. Bryant, dean of Carnegie Mellon’s School of Computer Science. “We are
very proud of his accomplishments and the recognition he is receiving via the
In 2007, von Ahn used his
crowdsourcing approach to create the online puzzles known as reCAPTCHAs, which reduce spam and
protect websites from automated, malicious programs. When people solve the
puzzles, they simultaneously digitize words from pre-computer-age books and
periodicals. So far, more than a billion Internet users have solved reCAPTCHA
puzzles and millions of books have been made suitable for search and for
reading on any digital device.
He also created Games with a Purpose, which harness human
gameplay to tackle challenging problems beyond the current capability of
computers, such as image recognition.
Ahn, earned his doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 2005
and joined the faculty of its Computer
Science Department in 2006. 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.
He has received numerous
awards, including a MacArthur Fellowship in 2006, a Packard Fellowship and
Sloan Research Fellowship in 2009, and the Association for Computing
Machinery’s Grace Murray
Hopper Award earlier this year. Last year, Spanish Foreign Policy magazine
named 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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