Luis von Ahn and Human Computation: how smart is this guy?

These days, many people talk about crowdsourcing, harnessing the power of the masses, and social everything (one of them is my former European boss Gil Penchina, today at work with Jimmy Wales on a better way to search).

Yet, I’ve started to believe that research conducted by Luis von Ahn at Carnegie Mellon is showing a most crucial insight about how to get this stuff done in mass volumes: make it fun and addictive. Today, I took about 40 minutes to watch this video of his Google TechTalk last July, in which he describes his approach to human computation. You don’t have to have a Ph.D. to watch it, and it’s actually quite humorous. The guy is cool, and not in a totally nerdy sort of way. The thought even passed my mind that if I were about ten years younger, that’s the kind of guy I’d want to date. (Well, the Pittsburgh press points out that he’s already engaged, to another CMU Assistant Professor).

But to get back to the point: we know that there are problems that brute computing force has a very hard time solving. Appealing to the fun and gratification mechanism in each of our brains, and doing so on a massive scale, is a very elegant solution. Now, if we could only invent an elegant game to solve for peace in Palestine, that would be an even more stunning achievement.

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