• Agents of Change

    • The innovative ambition of Guatemalan Luis von Ahn has led him to conceive some of the most inspiring equality projects on the Internet, following the premise that knowledge and its benefits should always we be shared.

    Luis von Ahn and his dream of translating the entire Internet / 

    Frequent users of the internet are no doubt familiar with CAPTCHA, a security measure used at the end of application forms, downloads and other similar operations that is employed to distinguish artificial intelligences from humans, to secure the information of the latter. These are, in broad terms, these are legible words or numbers that are in some way distorted and so that only a human being can identify and re-write them.

    While it sounds simple enough, back in the year 200 when Luis von Ahn and Manuel Blum presented the system, it was notably innovative.

    With time however, bon Ahn reconsidered the mechanism’s usefulness, less in terms of the safety it guaranteed and more on those of a parallel benefit. Millions of people recognizing words every moment, could they not take advantage of this somehow?

    Then, in the year 2007, he launched reCAPTCHA, an upgrade of sorts where one of the two shown words would come from a book that had been digitalised using optical recognition technology, which remains imperfect and thus some of the scanned symbols differ from their original format. The type of ensuing confusion can only be solved by a human brain. So, reCAPTCHA, complying with an apparently trivial gesture, characteristic of the internet, became an important piece in the humanist mission of creating a universal library. Thanks to this apparently minimal variation, more than forty-million words are transcribed every day.

    However, the Guatemalan professor’s dream does not end there. Aware that one of the greatest barriers holding back the democratising potential of the Internet is language, he presented the Duolingo project in 2011, this free access platform has the purpose of aiding the self-taught learning of a language, and it eventually aims to translate the Internet to the most-spoken languages around the world.

    In this manner, while a person is working on expanding their German vocabulary, on practicing their Italian conjugation, improving their Turkish pronunciation or memorising commonly used phrases in French, English or Spanish, they will also help to chip away at the language barrier of the Internet, thus narrowing the barrier of inequality that this gives rise to.

    So far, the path travelled by Luis von Ahn shows the collective potential of the internet and, above all else, of cooperative practices like crowdsourcing, the joint effort that, with a clearly defined purpose, can become the catalyser of the better futures which humankind has only dreamt of.

    Tagged: Luis von Ahn, Internet, Agents of Change