Monday, February 1, 2016

Re-Captcha and Duolingo

I watched a fascinating TED talk this morning by the creator of Captcha and Duolingo, Luis von Ahn. I know that CAPTCHA is often necessary to prevent spamming and fraud, but it can be quite irritating, especially when those characters are hard to read and I have to try multiple times!

What I didn’t know is that creators of the technology are also sensitive to the time wasted each day by internet users, even to the point of calculating the hundreds of thousands of hours spent daily by people all over the world, each spending a few seconds of time typing in those characters.

Several years ago, von Ahn actually created a way for users of CAPTCHA to be useful. He designed re-captcha, which actually uses words from old books that are being digitized. When a computer is unable to read a word from a book because of smearing or fading, that word is used in re-captcha, allowing internet users all over the world to “translate” that word. When you are required to type in two words on a site, one of those words is known by the program, and the other is a word that needs to be translated. Amazing! Now I won’t mind using those re-captchas at all!

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Then, Luis von Ahn and others turned their attention to the task of translating websites into other languages, usually a lengthy and expensive process. But, through the creation of DuoLingo, a free language-learning app, the efforts of those who are just learning a language can be put to use in translation on the internet. DuoLingo seems to be a great program. I’ve used it a little bit, and have heard a lot of positive reviews as well. The best aspect is that it is absolutely free! I find it really cool that my (purely selfish) efforts to learn something new are being put to use to make the internet more user-friendly.

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