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Immigrants Of The Week: Luis Von Ahn, Indra Nooyi, Arianna Huffington, Joel Mokyr, And Bono

by Greg Siskind

Editor's note: Here are the latest entries from Greg Siskind's blog.


I happened to be watching the PBS television show Wired Science this evening (a production of Wired Magazine) and saw a really interesting interview with Luis Von Ahn, a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University. Dr. Von Ahn is a Guatemalan immigrant who has been doing some pretty amazing things.

You probably already know what he's done with CAPTCHA. In fact, if you post a comment on this blog, you'll see CAPTCHA in action. It's that little box of funny looking letters you have to copy and this is what's keeping auto-generated spam from many places on the web.

The folks at the Google Blog had some nice things to say about Dr. Von Ahn that tell a little about what he's up to now:

Today our warmest congratulations go out to a notable young computer scientist, Dr. Luis von Ahn of Carnegie Mellon University. Based on his work in cryptography, AI, and natural intelligence, Luis has just been recognized as a Fellow by the MacArthur Foundation, which has granted him a "genius" award.

A major thread of his research is about human computation that can't currently be emulated by computers. (Together with colleagues he developed the CAPTCHA system, which has of course found widespread commercial application in preventing automated-generated spam.) He also works in the area of cryptography known as steganography. Unlike standard encrypted communications, a steganographic message disguises the fact that it contains a secret; one example is a text message subtly embedded in the bits that encode a digital photograph. He's also developing systems for characterizing visual images in ways that can vastly improve their searchability, and which help to build a rich database for exploring human visual cognition. (We've developed the Google Image Labeler based on his groundbreaking work in this area.)

Around here, we like to quote Isaac Newton's phrase about "standing on the shoulders of giants." Clearly, Luis is one of these.