“Humans, Data and Machines” was the 2018 theme of the annual public lecture series put on by the University of Arizona College of Science. As in past years, the ASA is sponsoring encore presentations of the talks for those who missed the original lectures.

Most of us have had the experience of being asked to read some misshapen symbols on our computer screen and then to type the letters or numbers we see in order to prove that we are a human rather than a machine requesting access to some computer service. That is called a Captcha. It was invented by Luis von Ahn, currently a professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, who participated in the University of Arizona’s 2018 evening lecture series on “Humans Data, and Machines.”

The Arizona Senior Academy will show a video recording of von Ahn’s talk entitled “What Humans Do that Machines Cannot” on Thursday (May 31), starting at 3:30 p.m.

Following Captcha, von Ahn next created an on-line game that uses players’ guesses about the contents of a picture to generate an acceptable caption for it. Both that program and Captcha were subsequently bought by Google.

Those successes led to Duolingo, which is the name of both a computer course and a company of which von Ahn is the co-founder and CEO. Duolingo is a free and extremely popular (over 1 billion users) on-line course for learning a foreign language.

All von Ahn’s projects use human intelligence to improve what computers can deliver. He explains his work and inventions enjoyably and clearly in his UA lecture, including with a bit of humor.

Luis von Ahn

Professor von Ahn is a native of Guatemala. After graduating at the top of his class at Duke University, he received a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University. Among his many awards and citations is a MacArthur genius grant.

Written by Marcia Neugebauer, Academy Village Volunteer

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May 31: How Humans Help Computers Learn