Duolingo, CAPTCHA co-founder Luis von Ahn wins prestigious Lemelson-MIT prize


Luis von Ahn, the co-founder of the popular language-learning platform Duolingo as well as the cyber-security system CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA, is the recipient of the 2018 Lemelson-MIT prize, which awards a mid-career inventor whose patented product or process has significantly improved society.

The $500,000 prize, the largest cash prize for invention in the U.S., was formally announced on Wednesday.

He is currently working full-time as the CEO of Duolingo, a free technology platform, including Apps, offering 82 language courses to over 300 million users around the world, to make language learning accessible.

He is also the cofounder of CAPTCHA, which stands for Completely Automated Public Turing, widely used by websites to tell computers and humans Apart. It requires users to retype a few computer-generated characters to prove they’re not a robot.

Websites use it to authenticate registration to a website, protect email addresses and block scalpers from buying and selling tickets. He also invented reCaptcha, which digitizes books and archives.

In an e-mailed statement to NBC News, von Ahn, who is a Carnegie Mellon University consulting professor, said his mission is to use technology, like he did with Duolingo, to level the playing field when it comes to knowledge and education.

“It’s been my life’s dream to be able to invent new technology that can help reduce inequality by making high-quality education accessible to everyone,” said von Ahn to NBC News. “From my upbringing in Guatemala I’ve seen that education is the key to opportunity and equality, but I’ve always felt it’s unfair that the best education is often only available to those with money.”

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