Luis von Ahn duolingo

Successful Latin Entrepreneurs: Luis von Ahn

August 3, 2020

Luis von Ahn is one of the most admired and most successful Latin entrepreneurs. Keep reading to learn more about his many amazing inventions.

Luis von Ahn was born in Guatemala only 41 years ago. It is difficult to believe that looking at his impressive business portfolio with successful ideas. He was lucky to be born to a well-established family of doctors who cared about his education and personal growth from his very first years. Thanks to the bilingual education he received, he was able to attend the best American universities later in life.

Von Ahn often mentions a personal anecdote remembering a meaningful event in his early childhood. When he was only 8 years old and was dying for a Nintendo, his mom bought him a Commodore 64 computer instead. This first machine aroused his interest for technology and computer science, and marked his path for many years ahead.

This Latin entrepreneur moved to the United States at the age of 18. Why? He couldn’t find a degree in Mathematics in his home country and Duke University gave him the opportunity he needed. He earned his PhD in Compùter Science at Carnegie Mellon University only 9 years later in a completely new field “human computation”, a term that he coined himself.

Luis von Ahn thought that if we join individual human brain power, we can solve problems that nobody can solve alone. His thesis described a now famous ESP online game where two randomly paired people are shown the same picture, and have to label it without communicating with each other. Sounds trivial, but without realizing it, millions of people contributed to the accuracy of Google Image Search.

In 2007, von Ahn did it again and improved his first invention CAPTCHA. This Guatemalan IT genius created reCAPTCHA and revolutionized access to online texts. How? The idea sounds simple (now).  When a company needs to recognize if a person that is trying to use their digital services is a real human being, they provide you with some blurry characters to read, as machines are really bad at it.

However, instead of one word you get two, the first one, that serves the computer to identify you as a human being, and the second one comes from scanned books or texts, illegible to online scanners. If you get the first word right, the computer assumes that the second one is true, too. So next time you read a book on Google books or an archive text from The New York Times, remember that maybe you also contributed to the mere possibility of it.

However, if you are oblivious to CAPTCHA and reCAPTCHA you must have heard of Duolingo. Yes, Luis von Ahn is also a co-founder and CEO of this incredible language teaching platform. If you are currently studying a language there, or rather playing in a language you want to learn, and you are not spending a penny on it, it’s thanks to the Guatemalan roots of this prosperous Latin American entrepreneur. There are so many people in Central and South America whose access to education is determined by their lack of funds, so Luis von Ahn promised himself that his platform will always be free for its users.

We consider that there are many reasons to admire Luis von Ahn and treat him as a role model. Follow us on Twitter and let us know what you think about this amazing story of success.