Duolingo: Translating the Web

by Richard H
Luis von Ahn (Creator of CAPTCHA) speaks at TED about “massive-scale online collaboration.” His reinvention of CAPTCHA, reCAPTCHA, allows the wasted human time of using CAPTCHA to instead be used to digitize books. When the system is unable to decipher a word from an image of text, it will place the undecipherable word into a CAPTCHA along with a word that it does understand as a control. The human user will be able to type in both words, and through the repeated process with multiple users, the system will have effectively allowed humans to digitize the word. Well, Luis non Ahn decided to not stop there. Instead, he devised a way to eventually have humans translate the entire web into different languages for free with greater accuracy than computer translation and with as good an accuracy as professional translators. His website “Duolingo” is a free language learning program that teaches by having users translate information from the web. The system cross checks with multiple user input to eventually develop the best relative translation.

Although this TED Talk is only almost relative to the course, I still believe that it is very interesting and a worth-while mention. Firstly, I am very impressed with the re-purposing of the mundane but necessary task of CAPTCHA use into a system that betters humanity as a whole. ReCAPTCHA is  somewhat a reflection of or development of the systems that utilize idle PC processing power upon a grand scale network, but instead this system is utilizing just the tiniest portion of the infinite processing power of a network of hundreds of millions of minds. It makes one think of how else this system can be used to improve humanity. There have already been some cases of grand developments in science that use a relatively similar technology: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-2039012/AIDS-cure-Gamers-solve-puzzle-stumped-scientists-years.html.

Although this TED talk is essentially an advertisement for Duolingo, it can almost be seen as a ironic turn toward the future where humans utilize technology that utilize human power. The whole situation seems almost like science fiction: The use of technology to connect the processing power of a billion minds to solve a problem like some sort of hive-mind. All kidding aside, Duolingo does seem like a good website. Its a free language learning program that is seems to be in many ways beneficial to many groups of people. People get to learn, people get translated websites, and everybody gets it all for free.


Ahn, L. (2011 December). Luis von Ahn: Massive-scale Online Collaboration[Video Webcast]. TED Talks.

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