Man vs Machine

Man vs Machine

Man vs machine: The power of human computation.

Tech entrepreneur Luis von Ahn is not only a crowdsourcing pioneer, MacArthur Fellow and computer science nerd; he is also a genius at finding ways for man to fill in the gaps left by machines. In an age where AI is fast becoming more intelligent and more capable than humans (and when Elon Musk claims we might already be living in the Matrix) it is reassuring to discover that there are still some things that computers cannot do without the help of their human creators. Von Ahn will be speaking at Design Indaba 2017, and here’s a few reasons why you don’t want to miss him.

In order to fully appreciate this man’s genius, we’ll need to take a look back at how von Ahn has harnessed the power of millions of human minds to solve problems that computers and algorithms cannot.

To start with, von Ahn’s language-learning platform Duolingo has over 120 million users and has won multiple awards, including iPhone’s app of the year, Google’s Best of the Best two years in a row, and an INDEX Award. Duolingo uses gamification to keep users engaged and having fun: awards are given for good learning streaks, points given for correct answers and hearts lost when responses are incorrect. Duolingo is an extraordinary example of next generation education technology whereby the best methods for teaching are constantly updated based on findings from the users’ achievements. This enmass citizen research improves the platform’s overall effectiveness and the same findings are used to tailor teaching methods and speeds to each individual user.

Von Ahn grew up in Guatemala and witnessed first hand the barriers faced by poor communities looking to escape poverty. Second languages can drastically improve the chances of employment, but courses are typically expensive. Duolingo is completely free to use and therefore democratises language learning and encourages better cultural connections. And that’s not even all: Duolingo also uses the collective intelligence of its millions of users to translate pages of the internet.

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