CMU translation software backed by Union Square Ventures, Ashton Kutcher

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A Carnegie Mellon University tech star's latest venture has attracted enough attention to score funding from a Hollywood screen star.

CMU announced Tuesday that Duolingo, a language translation program created by computer scientists Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker, has received funding from New York-based Union Square Ventures and actor Ashton Kutcher. Mr. Von Ahn said the total investment was $3.3 million.

Union Square Ventures focuses primarily on technology investments and has invested in Twitter, Tumblr, Foursquare and Zynga.

Mr. Kutcher, who replaced actor Charlie Sheen in the starring role in the CBS comedy "Two and A Half Men," has put his money on well-known tech startups such as Foursquare and peer apartment rental service AirBnB.

Duolingo, which uses a combination of computer exercises and real-world texts from the Internet to teach new languages, merges correctly translated sentences into entire documents of translated works. The company has been in beta stage since November and will eventually go on to translate commercial documents in addition to what's on the Internet.

"So far, the reception for Duolingo has been great," von Ahn said in a press release.

He said about 30,000 of the 100,000 people who have used the service so far have become regular users who stay on the site for at least 30 minutes per week.

Mr. von Ahn won tech sector fame in 2007 after creating reCAPTCHAs, the online puzzles that require users to type words and phrases in order to identify themselves as real people to access certain sites. The typed phrases, which come from standard books, are used to create digital books.

In 2009, Von Ahn sold reCAPCHA Inc., to Google for an undisclosed amount.

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Deborah M. Todd: or 412-263-1652. First Published June 19, 2012 4:45 AM


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