Luis von Ahn believes something that not many people believe…that humans are, in many ways, smarter than computers. Yes, computers can do so many things better than humans, but as the last issue of Wired says:
Ask a machine to point to a picture of a bird or pick out a particular voice in a crowd, and it usually fails. But even the most dim-witted human can do this easily.
Von Ahn wants to harness the “powers” us humans possess in order to to make computers smarter. One of his first inventions was Captcha. You probably don’t know it by name, but if you’ve ever bought tickets on Ticketmaster and have to read a bunch of random letters and numbers on a crazy background in order to purchase your tickets, you have used Captcha. Currently, he has been creating a bunch of “games” that people can play to help solve problems computers can not solve. Google recently bought one of his games and are using it to make their image database smarter. Here is a description for one of his games called Matchin’:
Players are shown the same pair of images, then each tries to pick the one they’ll both agree is more attractive. Creates a database of images searchable by aesthetic value, a task no algorithm can perform.
All of these games will hopefully soon be available on GWAP, but unfortunately, it is not up yet. Anyway, I think all of these “games” show a stroke of ingenuity that is amazing. It is one thing to just try and make computers smarter through better programming or hardware or software, but this takes it one step further. These games take the important parts of being human and translate it into the digital arena. Now, von Ahn could have just gotten a bunch of volunteers together to figure out some of these things, and it would have still been cool, but he has found a way to create fun games that many people would want to play so an endless amount of people around the world would want to play. That is powerful. I think it is cool that he is developing something that will use the Captcha program as a way to help put scanned in public domain books on the Internet. Basically, when you type in that word to buy your tickets, you would actually be deciphering one of the scans. I could go on and on….