- John Lamparski/Getty Images; Chantal Heijnen for Duolingo; Shayanne Gal for Business Insider
- Luis Von Ahn is the cofounder of language-learning app Duolingo and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a “Genius Grant.”
- Back when Von Ahn first became a computer science professor, he received a phone call from Bill Gates, who wanted to hire Von Ahn for Microsoft’s research team.
- Von Ahn declined the offer, but kept in touch with Gates.
- Now, they talk about Duolingo and its use of artificial intelligence.
Von Ahn is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, also known as a “Genius Grant.” He created captcha, the ubiquitous security technology that confirms people aren’t robots online, as well as its “recaptcha” successor, which helped digitize a year of New York Times articles in a week.
When Von Ahn first became a computer science professor, he explained on an episode of Business Insider’s podcast, “Success! How I Did It,” Gates called him to convince him to join Microsoft research.
“I was very humbled by it, and to me it’s been amazing to talk to him,” Von Ahn said.
Since then, Von Ahn has met Gates about 10 different times, most recently in January.
“He remains my hero,” Von Ahn said of Gates. “He’s just amazing. Everything that he’s done and just the way he thinks. He is one person that you sit there in a room and you think, ‘This person, for a fact, is significantly smarter than I am.’ I appreciate talking to him every time.”
They usually talk about Duolingo and Von Ahn’s use of artificial intelligence as a teaching tool for the app.
“He was interested in learning more about how we’re using artificial intelligence in Duolingo, to try to teach better,” Von Ahn said of their last meeting. “He was lamenting the fact that a lot of education companies particularly are claiming that they’re using AI in very sophisticated ways, but in reality it’s pretty unsophisticated.”
Von Ahn said Duolingo’s instructional artificial intelligence is medium-sophisticated. At the moment, the app does not have a competitor that uses AI in a similar way.
“There’s no company that’s using artificial intelligence to teach that is, like, ‘Oh my God, this is completely groundbreaking in terms of AI, and we’re going to substitute all human teachers, et cetera,” Von Ahn said. “I don’t think we’re anywhere near that yet.”