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Aug. 15: Luis von Ahn Named One of World's Top Young Innovators


Byron Spice
Carnegie Mellon University

Anne Watzman
Carnegie Mellon University

Sarah Mees
Technology Review

Luis von Ahn Named One of World's Top Young Innovators

Technology Review Magazine To Honor Carnegie Mellon Computer Scientist

PITTSBURGH—Luis von Ahn, assistant professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, today was named one of this year's top 35 innovators under the age of 35 by Technology Review magazine in recognition of his pioneering work in the field known as human computation.

Luis von AhnA panel of expert judges and the editorial staff of Technology Review selected this year's TR35 from more than 300 nominees. Von Ahn and the other TR35 winners for 2007 will be featured in the September issue of the magazine and honored Sept. 25-27 at the magazine's Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT.

"The TR35 honors young innovators for accomplishments that are poised to have a dramatic impact on the world as we know it," said Jason Pontin, editor in chief and publisher of Technology Review. "We celebrate their success and look forward to their continued advancement of technology in their respective fields."

A major focus of von Ahn's research has been finding novel ways to tap the unique computational abilities of humans. His latest project, called reCAPTCHA, is a new version of the "distorted letter" tests, called CAPTCHAs, that are used millions of times each day to ensure that users of a Web site are human and not rogue computer programs. Instead of using artificially distorted letters or numbers, the reCAPTCHA tests use words from printed texts that are in the process of being digitized, but cannot be deciphered with existing optical character-recognition programs. By solving the reCAPTCHA puzzle, a human user not only gains access to a Web site, but also helps make more books available online.

ReCAPTCHA tests, released publicly last spring, are already being used by thousands of Web sites and have deciphered millions of words for the Internet Archive's book digitization program.

Von Ahn has also led development of multiplayer, online games that tap human capabilities. One, called the ESP Game, produces descriptive labels for poorly captioned images on the Web. Google licensed the technology for use as Google Image Labeler.

Earlier this year, von Ahn received a Microsoft Research New Faculty Fellowship, and last year he was named a winner of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius grant." A native of Guatemala, von Ahn earned his doctorate in computer science at Carnegie Mellon in 2005 and joined the faculty of the School of Computer Science last year.

Additional information about past and present TR35 winners and judges is available at For more information about Technology Review's 2007 Emerging Technologies Conference, visit

About Carnegie Mellon: Carnegie Mellon is a private research university with a distinctive mix of programs in engineering, computer science, robotics, business, public policy, fine arts and the humanities. More than 10,000 undergraduate and graduate students receive an education characterized by its focus on creating and implementing solutions for real problems, interdisciplinary collaboration, and innovation. A small student-to-faculty ratio provides an opportunity for close interaction between students and professors. While technology is pervasive on its 144-acre Pittsburgh campus, Carnegie Mellon is also distinctive among leading research universities for the world-renowned programs in its College of Fine Arts. A global university, Carnegie Mellon has campuses in Silicon Valley, Calif., and Qatar, and programs in Asia, Australia and Europe. For more, see
About Technology Review Inc.: Technology Review Inc., an independent media company owned by MIT, is the authority on the future of technology, identifying emerging technologies and analyzing their impact for leaders. Technology Review's media properties include Technology Review magazine, the oldest technology magazine in the world (founded in 1899); the daily news Web site; and events such as the annual Emerging Technologies Conference at MIT.