Luis got $500,000 for being smart. Really.

Check out the Computer Scientist who just got $500,000. For free!

OK, not exactly for free. He got it from the MacArthur Foundation for being brilliant, and for doing cool stuff.

Dr. Luis von Ahn is 27, a native of Guatemala, and a computer scientist at Carnegie Melon University. He had offers in hand from just about every research, corporate or academic Computer Science institution on the planet when he finished his Ph.D. in 2005. There are some fun stories and anecdotes about him in the article above – it’s a fun read.

Here’s his home page (you can play his games from there)

Here’s Carnegie Melon’s press release

Oh, and Popular Science just named him to their Fifth Annual Brilliant 10

Here’s a fun Google Video tech talk from him, on Human Computation

Let me show you a highlight, just one slide from his talk, which I hope will tweak your curiousity enough to click and listen to what Luis has to day on Human Computation:

  • 9 billion human-hours of Solitaire were played in 2003
  • Empire State Building took 7 million human hours of construction (6.8 hours of Solitaire)
  • Panama Canal took 20 million human hours (less than a day of Solitaire)

Watch for a highlight, just after minute 21:00. šŸ˜€

OK, another highlight to make you click:

The ESP Game is an “algorithm”
Input: An image
Output: Set of keywords
It is a GAME WITH A PURPOSE
It is an algorithm running as a computation in people’s brains instead of silicon processors
As an algorithm, it can be tested, and its results can be reviewed. In fact, people playing the ESP Game as a game produce keywords for images as accurately as professional editors who are being paid to do it.

He’s not just talking about any of this stuff, he’s making it work. Here’s his ESP game, which is what Google just licensed, and is using to get thousands (eventually millions) of people to actually PLAY A GAME WHICH ALSO RAPIDLY PUTS ACCURATE TAGS ON ALL GOOGLE’S IMAGES. Nice!

So: if you’re thinking about Computer Science – whether you’re in the US or anywhere else in the world – Luis is a great example of why you should, and a cool role model of how you can have fun and do lots of interesting things if you do.

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